Friday, August 6, 2010


Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day
August 6

eighty-six \ay-tee-SIKS\ verb, slang

Meaning: to refuse to serve (a customer); also : to get rid of : throw out

The paragraph about etymology that was included in the email about this word said that “they” (etymologists?) basically have no idea how it came to mean what it means. In a sense, they blame it on the poets because they speculate that somebody used it to rhyme with “nix.” Ok, maybe. But I’m wondering…if “eighty-six” means “to get rid of,” than what would “ninety-six” mean? There is a town named Ninety-Six here in South Carolina, named in the 1700’s because it was thought to be 96 miles from the Cherokee settlement at Keowee, a location that is now underwater in the midst of a lake formed by a dam in the 1970’s. It’s not too far from Due West, so named because it was west of a trading post that no longer exists. Apparently both the Keowee settlement and the trading post have been “eighty-six”-ed. Or maybe “ninety-six”-ed would be more appropriate, as they were not just tossed out, but all traces of them have been totally eliminated by hundreds of feet of water and hundreds of years of time.

I think it’s interesting that the original context of this word was a restaurant, hence the first meaning listed in the definition. I have never heard it used in that sense, and I wonder if we eighty-six-ed that usage because refusing to serve became too pervasive throughout our society? We became the “me” generation, rugged individualists, focused on climbing corporate ladders and having the latest, greatest gadgets. It’s no wonder secularism is on the rise. We have eighty-sixed God in the process because he calls us to serve and that doesn’t fit in our picture. Oh, sure, he’s there in the background, but he’s well on his way to being ninety-six-ed altogether, if we’re not careful. I’m sure part of our problem is that we’re looking for a god who’ll serve us, not the other way around. The insanity of this thinking is dramatically put in perspective by God’s words to Job: “Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:10b-11). He really owes us nothing. He’s already given us life and everything we are and all we have, and, on top of that, given us eternity through the sacrifice of his son. What more can we ask for? And yet we ask and ask and ask. Now, I know that Jesus tells us to ask (Matt 7:7-11), but I think the attitude behind the asking is often the problem. We forget who we’re asking. He is, after all, the creator of the universe. He could wipe us out in the blink of an eye, if he wanted to. But he doesn’t. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t that we forget that he can. We prefer to focus on his greater-than-we-can-fathom love and grace. Those are certainly two of my favorites of his qualities, and the ones I most want to share with those who don’t know him. But I think his all-powerful side is important to remember, too. It helps us to keep things in perspective…and keeps us from allowing all traces of him from being eighty-sixed from our lives.

So if eighty-six is to refuse to serve, and ninety-six would be the even-more-extreme version of that, then what would be a good number for welcoming the opportunity to serve? What’s a good humble number? Zero. I like that, actually, because it makes it ok to be a zero. Carrying this through, then (forgive the pun, please), in our digital age where everything is reduced to the binary, that would leave “one” as the only other possible number—a good number for God, who ought to be number one in our lives. So today is brought to you by the number one. Make it a good one. Be ready to serve with gratitude, and be blessed.

I cannot stop there, however. I feel compelled to mention that “eighty-six” also has relevance to the country of Maldives. I learned today that this country is made up of 1200 islands in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka. None of these islands is bigger than one square kilometer and only 200 of them are inhabited. As you might imagine, their primary sources of income are fishing and tourism. That sounds nice, but the people of Maldives are in serious danger of being eighty-sixed, and maybe even ninety-sixed. Two-thirds of their islands were badly affected by the 2004 tsunami,(i) but that was just a temporary inundation. With global warming and the rising of the seas, they are threatened with permanent inundation. As dire a situation as that is, I am even more struck by the fact that this country which is 99.4% Muslim has no Christian missionaries.(ii) There are Christians there (0.10% of the population), and they are persecuted, but this country is too small to even show up on the ranking of persecuted places. Now, since this has been a discussion of numbers, I have to point out that the statistic about Christians in Maldives is made up of only ones and zeros. How fitting. Basically that’s what it all boils down to: us (the zeros) and God (number one). I hope you’ll pray for the people of Maldives, for their physical situation as well as their spiritual one, and in the process, I hope you’ll remember, as I am also trying to do, that the God to whom you’re praying is all powerful. He made us and the Maldivians, and he holds us all in the palm of his hand.(iii) He could wipe us out in a heartbeat, but instead he promises to be with us, no matter what. I guess it’s ok to be a zero when you’ve got powerful friends.

I wonder what the people in Ninety-Six would think about all this?


ii. Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandrick, Operation World: 21st Century Edition, (Tyrone, GA: Authentic Media, 2005), 427.
iii. ,Isaiah 43:1-3

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