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Republicans criticized Whitmer for use of “86.” What does it actually mean?

Whitmer in an office with "8645" pin in the bottom left.
Screenshot from NBC's "Meet the Press"
On Sunday, Whitmer appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press." A pin in the background that read "8645" drew criticism from some Republicans, who say the pin was a subtle way to encourage violence against President Trump.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you’ve most likely heard the term “86” yelled at you from the kitchen. In the restaurant industry, the term is used to refer to dishes that are no longer available on the menu.

A few days ago, Governor Gretchen Whitmer made waves during a television interview from her home with Meet The Press. Tucked discreetly in the corner of the screen on a table just behind Whitmer’s right shoulder was a pin that read "8645."

The latter, of course, being a reference to the 45th U.S. president, Donald Trump. Putting those two numbers together, “8645” is a subtle way to imply “get rid of Donald Trump.”

But some Republicans wondered if Whitmer was sending a nefarious, or even violent, message, going so far as to say that Whitmer was calling for an assassination of Donald Trump. With all the controversy swirling around the humble two digits, we called on a language expert to help explain the origins of "86." 

Anne Curzan is the Dean of the School of Literature, Science, and Arts at the University of Michigan. She says that while the current linguistic use for “86” is mainly used in restaurants, there is a variety of folklore surrounding the term's origins. 

Some say that on the Empire State building’s 86th floor, people were told to exit the elevator. Others claim that during Prohibition Era, a bar called Chumley’s on 86 Bedford St. in New York City would yell “86!” if patrons needed to exit the establishment quickly.

Curzan says that the term could also come from rhyming slang?a type of slang that replaces the true word with a word or phrase that rhymes.

“Rhyming slang is often playful, and so you get '86' because it rhymes with nix.”

More recently, “86” was picked up in the political sphere in 2018 when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was kicked out of a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. And, Curzan said, the most accurate meaning of “8645” might be derived from this event.

“It could mean they’re fired, that there’s no more use for them, they’ve been asked to leave. So that meaning is out there as well, which is more relevant to the ‘8645,'” said Curzan.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan,

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