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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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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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Words
The Early 20th Century Society That Tried to Make English Spelling More Intuitive
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The English language is notorious for complex spelling rules—and the many words that break them. We all know i comes before e, except, of course, in certain weird words like, well, weird. We pronounce the letter i like eye if the word ends in an e—except in words like give. Unsurprisingly, even native English speakers get fed up with the inanity of the language’s complicated spelling conventions, and there have been several pushes to replace them with something a little more intuitive over the centuries, as The Public Domain Review highlights.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the London-based Simplified Speling Soesiety was one of the groups pushing for a more logical system of English spelling. Its journal, first published in 1912, refers to standard English spelling as "in sum waiz unreezonabl and retrograid.” So the group went about coming up with new ways to spell common words itself, hoping its alternate approach would catch on.

The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling contained a pronunciation guide, but many of its alternative spellings can be deciphered fairly easily. As long as you peruse carefully, that is. Reading through the publication feels like stumbling through an archaic text from hundreds of years ago, rather than something written during the 20th century.

A pronunciation guide from the 'Pioneer of Simplified Speling'
The Pioneer of Simplified Speling

Go ahead and wade into how the group, founded in 1908, explained its mission in the first edition of The Pioneer:

The aim ov the Soesiety nou iz tu plais befor the public cleer staitments ov the cais against the curent speling, tu sho hou seerius ar the consecwensez ov yuezing it, and hou much wood be gaind, if sum such sceem az that ov the Soesiety wer adopted.

Did you get all that?

The debut edition of the quirky journal, which you can read on the Internet Archive, includes not just the group’s mission statement and goals, but birthday congratulations to the Society’s founding president, aggregated updates about spelling in the news (like that in an interview, British chemist Sir William Ramsay mentioned a German child never making a spelling mistake), the announcement of the group’s annual meeting (at which members would submit new simplified spellings for discussion), and other minor spelling-related notes.

The whole thing is truly a treasure.

Fed-up readers and writers have been trying to wrangle English spelling conventions into something more manageable for essentially as long as there have been standardized spellings. Benjamin Franklin was a spelling reformer during his lifetime, as was Theodore Roosevelt. Soesiety member George Bernard Shaw went so far as to leave his estate in a trust dedicated to reforming the English alphabet when he died.

Though the spelling reformers of yore didn't find much mainstream acceptance for their ideas, there are still modern orthography obsessives who want to revamp the English spelling system to make it easier to learn. And they have a point: For English-speaking children, learning to read and write takes years longer than it does for kids learning to read in languages with easier spelling rules, like Finnish. Considering that one study of 7000 different English words found that 60 percent of them had irregularly used letters, it’s a wonder any of us English speakers have learned to read at all. If only the Simplified Speling Soesiety had gotten its way back in the early 1900s, maybe we would have an easier time of it.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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