7 Bartending Terms and What They Actually Mean

iStock
iStock

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.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Eldest vs. Oldest: What's the Difference Between These Two Age-Related Adjectives?

Danny DeVito will help illustrate our point.
Danny DeVito will help illustrate our point.
Stuart C. Wilson, Getty Images

When it comes to adjectives related to age, choosing between eldest and oldest can cause some people to grow a few premature gray hairs. The words seem interchangeable and their preferred usage is unclear. Why say oldest person alive and not eldest person alive? What’s the difference between the two?

According to Merriam-Webster, the most significant distinction is that eldest and elder are only ever used to refer to people. An antique can’t be the eldest in a collection, only the oldest. But your older sister could be the eldest among your siblings.

Eldest is most often used in the context of people who are related either as family or as part of a group for comparison purposes. It also doesn’t necessarily have to refer to age. If someone joins a chess club in their 80s, they might be the oldest person in the group, but that doesn’t mean they’re the eldest. That would describe the member of the group who’s been there the longest, even if that person is in their 30s.

To justify our use of actor Danny DeVito in the image above, we could say that, at age 75, DeVito is the oldest cast member of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but not the eldest. He joined the show in season 2.

Oldest can certainly refer to people, but it’s best to opt for eldest when comparing people within a social or familial community. And remember that elder can also be used as a noun, while older cannot. You would respect the elders in your family, not the olders.

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