Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nix on 86


We were discussing the term “86” on the show not too long ago. It was part of a code developed in various areas of the country by cooks, waiters, and other restaurant personnel. It meant “we’re out of that item” or, alternatively, “get this obstreperous person out of here.” Different areas of the country filled out the rest of the code in various ways.

There are many stories purporting to explain the origins of the term, but there’s no closure as far as I can see. David Wilton’s examination is as good as any.

But the discussion led to a caller who wanted to know if the contraceptive RU486 (marketed in the U.S. as Mifepristone) actually amounted to this meaning: “Are you for eighty-sixing the fetus?” That’s an extremely imaginative approach, but it doesn’t hold up after research.

The drug was developed by a French pharmaceutical company, and it worked its own name into the drug trials, as is the custom: Roussel Uclaf Company. That accounts for the RU. The 486 was simply the next serial number combination in line for a trial drug at that lab.

In some vague way, this reminds me of the flap over Procter & Gamble’’s logo a few years back. [See http://www.snopes.com/business/alliance/procter.asp]


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