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August 21: National Forgiveness Day

It’s National Forgiveness Day. A good day to test the endurance of those 86s you’ve been stacking up. Speaking of which, why do they yell, “You’re 86’d!” in your ear as you’re propelled out the door, rather than, say, 77’d or 56’d?” Well, there are a number of theories. Some say it means the staff doesn’t want to see your face for as many years. Others argue that the standard crew of a British merchant ship in the 19th century was 85, thus the 86th sailor was left on shore with the land-lubbers. Or, there were 85 tables at NYC’s famous 21 Club and to be offered a seat at “table 86” meant you were about to get tossed out. Or, a grave is generally eight feet long and six feet deep. Or, back in the Old West, 86-proof whiskey was considered weak and strictly for the ladies, so to serve it to a man was a subtle way of saying, “You ain’t wanted ‘round here, pard.” Finally, the number 86 was verbal shorthand used at lunch counters and hash houses for being out of something, as in, “Eighty-six the pancakes,” and was later applied to customers who were plain out of luck. So which theory is correct? Well, since it wasn’t associated with being cut off at a bar in print until 1943, you can rule out the Old West and nautical theories right off the bat, or boat, as it were. As far as the staff not wanting to see your face, why would they arbitrarily choose 86 years, why not 100, just to be safe? The grave theory seems silly and the club theory just another Gotham-centric fable. The lunch-counter numerical code, however, has been proven to have existed as early as the 1930s, and thus seems the most likely source.

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