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Unexpected meanings of English numerals that mean not numbers at all


Source: "English | English Winglish" on "Yandex.Zen"

Author of the channel “English | English Winglish ”on“ Yandex.Zen ” explains the meanings of basic English numbers, which not all native speakers and English pros know about.

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To eighty-six (verb, from number 86)

According to one version, this word appeared in American English in the early 1930s - in the slang of soda and ice cream traders, it meant a product that was out of stock. Why eighty-six (86)? Now no one will say for sure, but according to the most common version, this word was used because it rhymes with nix (a colloquial American word, means “no / nothing / refuse”).

But the bartenders of New York have their own theory on this subject: the old-timers of the profession claim that the origin of the verb to eighty-six is ​​associated with Article 86 of the New York Liquor Code, which was in use in the 1940s. This article described the conditions under which the bartender should no longer pour the customer.

In the middle of the 20th century, the word migrated from the professional to the spoken language and became a verb that takes on new meanings. Nowadays, when speaking eighty-six, carriers most often use it to mean “deny customer service”. The verb also means “to get rid of something, to throw it away”, and more recently it has sometimes begun to be used also in the meaning of “kill”.


John Hawkes, however, was the last person anyone might have suspected would get eighty-sixed from the Oscar proceedings. - Hardly anyone could have suspected, however, that John Hawkes would be excluded from the Oscar procedure.

Annoyed, he moved to eighty-six her. In response, Jesse made a hands-up gesture of surrender but retreated only a few steps. Annoyed, he moved to push her out. In response, Jesse threw her hands up in surrender, but only retreated a few steps.

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Number two (noun, literally: number 2)

This phrase not only denotes the second most important person in the company, substitute or next to the leader, but it is also used as a euphemism (that is, a softer expression for something rude) for the word "feces", especially when talking to young children. “Do / take a number two” in English means “to go big”. And in order to say “go small”, children sometimes say “do / take a number one”, although this meaning does not appear in the dictionary.

Examples from the Cambridge Dictionary:

Have you ever had to do a number two outside? - Have you ever had to walk in a big way on the street?

She notified the audience that she was late because she had to take a number two. - She notified the audience that she was late because she had to go big.

Fifty-fifty (adverb or adjective, 50/50)

This word means “half, half,” “50 to 50”.

Examples from the Cambridge Dictionary:

They divided the prize fifty-fifty. - They split the prize in half.

There's only a fifty-fifty chance that she'll survive the operation. - The chance that she will survive the operation is only 50 percent.

Twenty-twenty (adjective, 20/20)

Means "one hundred percent" in relation to human visual acuity. The origin of the word stems from the practice of measuring vision, which was considered one hundred percent if one could read letters with each eye from a distance of 20 feet. And the expression twenty-twenty hindsight means "to be a strong hind mind"


The optician told me I had twenty-twenty vision. - The ophthalmologist told me that I have one hundred percent vision.

With 20/20 hindsight we now see where our strategy went wrong. “Now, in hindsight, we see where our strategy went wrong.

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Forty-niner (noun, from number 49)

This word is associated with the history of the United States and denotes a participant in the "gold rush" in California in 1849.

I read a book about the life of forty-niners. - I read a book about the life of the participants in the "gold rush".

Original column published on the blog. “English | English Winglish ”on“ Yandex.Zen ”

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