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7 Bartending Terms and What They Actually Mean

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Everything old is made new again, and bar slang is no exception. If you’ve spent an evening at a bar in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed that the bartender’s (and some customers’) language is peppered with quippy slang.

Some of it is probably familiar, but its origins or exact meaning maybe be a bit strange. To help you navigate your next bar order, we’ve put together a list of seven bar terms and their generally accepted definitions.

1. 86 (also 86’d, 86ing)

Within the bar and restaurant world, patrons and ingredients alike can get 86’d. If a bartender runs out of something or wants to get rid of it, she may tell other barstaff to 86 it. Likewise, a bartender can 86 a customer who’s had a bit too much by kicking them out.

86's etymology is a little murky with explanations ranging from alcohol strength to the number of bullets French soldiers were issued. Supposedly, its use in the restaurant industry dates back to the 1930s to signify that they ran out of something. There’s also the possibility that it comes from Prohibition-era raids at a bar called Chumley’s at 86 Bedford Ave in New York City. As this story goes, a paid-off police officer would tip off a bartender by telling him to 86 his customers. In this case, it meant for them to leave via the Bedford Ave exit. But probably the most likely story is that it’s just another example of diner slang and that rhymes with “nixed.”

2. Chaser

This term for a small amount of a liquid—beer, water, soda, pickle brine, etc.—that accompanies a strong drink or shot is most likely derived from the French term chasse, which translates to “[it] chases.” Chaser has been in use in English since about 1800, but it most likely originally referred to the practice of taking a sip of liquor to quash the unpleasant aftertaste of coffee or tobacco.

3. On The Rocks

As one of the most commonly used bartending terms, it’s useful to know that this order will get you a bar’s standard pour (often 1.25, 1.5, or 2 oz) of straight spirit poured over ice in a rocks glass. Some Scotch whisky companies have asserted that this term comes from the Scottish tradition of chilling their drinks with rocks cooled in a river. Though interesting, the story is probably false.

A more likely story is that the term was born back in the days when ice cubes were chipped off of a larger block. As the phrase became more prevalent in pop culture, it became a more popular way to order whisk(e)y.

4. Up

Up and neat are two of the most confused terms in the bartending world. A drink served up has been chilled through by shaking or stirring, then strained into an empty glass and served without ice. Its origins date back to 1874, but these are murkier than most. It’s likely that ordering a drink up meant that it was served in a glass with a stem. Though ordering something “down”—chilled and served in a rocks glass—is an extinct practice, it makes the stem seem that much more plausible.

5. Neat

A drink served neat, on the other hand, would be poured from the bottle into a glass and served at room temperature without ice. For spirits, this term seems to have arisen in the early 1800s, but was used to signify or order unadulterated wine from the late 16th century onwards.

6. Behind the Stick

If a bartender is behind the stick, he or she is working behind the bar doing the actual bartending rather than managerial tasks. Though this term is believed to have come from the wooden handles on beer taps, its exact origins are still unknown.

7. Finger (Unit of Measurement)

This measurement system hearkens back to the saloons of the Wild West. Patrons would order the size of their pour based on the width of the barman’s fingers. Since this system is rather imprecise, many bars have abandoned it entirely. However, others have begun the fight to standardize a one-finger pour.

Bars fighting to formalize the measurement have advocated that one finger equals a 3/4 inch pour in a standard rocks glass. This translates roughly to an ounce, so one finger would be one ounce, two would be two ounces, etc.

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Big Questions
What’s the Difference Between a Gift and a Present?
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It’s that time again when we’re busy buying, wrapping, and giving them. Sometimes we call them gifts, sometimes presents. Is there a difference?

The words come to us from different language families. Gift comes from the old Germanic root for “to give.” It referred to an act of giving, and then, to the thing being given. In Old English it meant the dowry given to a bride’s parents. Present comes from the French for "to present." A present is the thing presented or bestowed. They were both in use for the idea of something undergoing a transfer of possession without expectation of payment from the 13th century onward.

The words gift and present are well-matched synonyms that mean essentially the same thing, but even well-matched synonyms have their own connotations and distinctive patterns of use. Gift applies to a wider range of situations. Gifts can be talents. You can have the gift of gab, or a musical gift. Gifts can be intangibles. There is the gift of understanding or the gift of a quiet day. We generally don’t use present for things like this. Presents are more concrete. A bit more, well, present. If your whole family gave donations to your college fund for your birthday would you say “I got a lot of presents”? It doesn’t exactly sound wrong, but since you never hold these donations in your hand, gifts seems to fit better.

Gift can also be an attributive noun, acting like an adjective to modify another noun. What do you call the type of shop where you can buy presents for people? A gift shop. What do you call the basket of presents that you can have sent to all your employees? A gift basket. Present doesn’t work well in this role of describing other nouns. We have gift boxes, gift cards, and gift wrap, not present boxes, present cards, and present wrap.

Gift appears to be more frequent than present, though it is difficult to get accurate counts, because if you compare occurrences of the noun present with the noun gift, you include that other noun present, meaning the here and now. However, the plural noun presents captures only the word we want. Gifts outnumbers presents in the Corpus of Contemporary American English by four to one.

Still, according to my personal sense of the words, present—though it may not be as common—is more casual sounding than gift. I expect a child to ask Santa for lots and lots of presents, not many, many gifts. But whether it’s gifts or presents you prefer, I wish you many and lots this year, of both the tangible and intangible kind.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Words
21 Fancy Medical Terms for Mundane Problems
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Your health issues might be mundane, but that’s no reason to be boring. Give your complaints some interesting heft with these fancy medical terms for commonplace problems.

1. Limb falling asleep

That numb feeling that you wake to when you’ve slept on your arm wrong is obdormition. It is followed by a pricking, tingling sensation called paresthesia.

2. Ice cream headache

Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Say it five times fast to warm up your mouth and relieve the brain freeze.

3. Muscle twitch

If you ever feel the sudden flutter under your skin from a small bundle of muscle fibers spontaneously contracting, you can say you’re experiencing fasciculation (from fasciculus, “little bundle”).

4. Corn

That callus on your foot may be soft, in which case it’s a heloma molle. If it's hard, it's a heloma durum.

5. Tongue bump

One tiny, swollen taste bud looks like no big deal in the mirror, but feels distractingly humongous in your mouth. It has a big name to match that big feeling: transient lingual papillitis.

6. Ingrown toenail

If you want to go Greek, it’s onychocryptosis (“hidden nail”), but if you prefer Latin, stick with unguis incarnatus (“nail in flesh”).

7. Canker sores

Aphthous stomatitis. Hard to say even without canker sores.

8. Cheek biting

You know how sometimes you bite the inside of your cheek by accident, and then you get that little ridge of tissue that sticks out so that you end up biting it again and again? That’s morsicatio buccarum, baby.

9. Getting the wind knocked out of you

This feels bad, but doesn’t last very long. Just a transient diaphragmatic spasm.

10. Hiccup

The more rhythmic diaphragm action of the hiccup is a synchronous diaphragmatic flutter.

11. Sneeze

Why sneeze when you can sternutate?

12. Eye Floaters

What are those little transparent threads you can see floating across your eyeball when you pay close attention? Just muscae volitantes (“flying flies”) the name for the little bits of protein or other material in the jelly inside your eye.

13. Bed wetting

If you wet the bed at night it’s nocturnal enuresis. If you have accidents during the day it’s diurnal enuresis.

14. Fainting

If you faint at the sight of blood or upon hearing some shocking news, it’s probably vasovagal syncope, an automatic response mediated by the vagus nerve. Tightly laced corsets only make it worse.

15. Dizzy from standing up fast

If a dizzy, head rush feeling is brought on by standing up too fast, it’s orthostatic hypotension.

16. Growling stomach

All that rumbling and gurgling in the stomach and guts goes by the name borborygmi.

17. Goose bumps

The Latin horrere originally referred to bristling, or hair standing on end, a sense captured by the word for goose bumps, horripilation.

18. Nose running from eating spicy food

When you’re sniffling while you’re spooning in that spicy soup, you’ve got gustatory rhinitis.

19. Joints making noise

All that popping, creaking, and cracking of joints when you get out of bed in the morning goes by the name of crepitus, from the Latin for “rattle, crack.” The word decrepit goes back to the same root.

20. Shin splints

People aren’t very impressed by shin splints, but they might be impressed by medial tibial stress syndrome.

21. Hangover

Overdid it last night? Just explain to your boss that you’ve got a bit of veisalgia. This fancy word for hangover was coined in a 2000 paper in a medical journal. It combines the Norwegian word kveis (“uneasiness following debauchery”) with the Greek word for pain.

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