Americans Sing the Praises of TV's 'Glee'

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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English. I'm Doug Johnson.

  • This week on our program we tell all about the very popular American television series "Glee."
  • And we play music from the show's many stars.
  • But first we answer a question about the strange American use of the number eighty-six.

We answer a question today from China about an American term. Ella wants to know what it means to "eighty-six" something. She says she heard the term in a movie.

Most dictionaries say the term "eighty-six" comes from employees in the restaurant industry. It means the restaurant has sold out of something. This can happen with a really popular dish, or a special of the day. Specials are foods not on the usual list of foods served.

The head cook, or chef, of a restaurant will tell the head server that the kitchen is out of chicken soup, for example. That server might say to the rest of the employees, "eighty-six the chicken soup."

But, if a customer then orders the chicken soup a server will simply answer, "Sorry, we're out of the soup." It would not be considered respectful to say, "It's eighty-sixed."

Eighty-six has also been used in popular culture to mean dismiss or even kill. If someone has been fired from a job they might say, "My boss eighty-sixed me." Sometimes on television crime dramas you might hear a police officer or a suspect say someone was "eighty-sixed," meaning killed.

The Random House Historical Dictionary of Slang provides a possible explanation for the use of eighty-six in restaurants. The notation comes from a nineteen twenties play called "Burlesque." A waiter in the play tells a customer, "If you need any Scotch or gin, Sir -- … My number is Eighty-Six." In other words, he is saying, if you run out, call eighty-six.

The same dictionary also says another former definition of eighty-six was undesirable customer. It notes a nineteen forty-six book about the famous American actor Lionel Barrymore. Gene Fowler wrote that Barrymore was considered an "eighty-six" at one drinking establishment, or bar. He was not to be served because he visited the bar often and did not behave well.


"Glee" is a new television series about high school students who like to sing. Music from the show has become extremely popular on CDs and on iTunes. Shirley Griffith has more.

"Glee" is about a high school singing group, also known as a glee club. It takes place at the fictional William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio. Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan created the show. They based it on their own high school glee club experiences.

Mr. Murphy chooses all the music for the show. His goal is to include many kinds of music – from current pop songs to classic rock to show tunes from Broadway musicals. The stars of "Glee" sing their versions of these famous songs. Here the members of the glee club sing "Somebody to Love." The British rock group Queen recorded this song in the nineteen seventies.

Songs performed on "Glee" are released on iTunes before the show is broadcast. They are released through other digital outlets and mobile carriers a week later. More than three million copies of the songs have been downloaded. And two CDs have been released. The first one, "Glee: The Music, Volume 1," was released in November.

Matthew Morrison plays Will Schuester, the teacher who directs the glee club. Here is his version of Kanye West's rap song "Gold Digger."

"Glee" deals with the problems of high school students. The rest of the school does not respect the glee club. Sue Sylvester, the coach of the cheerleaders, plots to destroy it. Some members of the glee club are not popular because they are different from the rest of the students. But some members are football players and cheerleaders – the most popular kids at school.

At first they do not get along. Then they realize they all have something in common – their love of music. They decide to work together to compete against other high school glee clubs. Here Lea Michele sings her version of "Take a Bow" by Rihanna.

Ryan Murphy created "Glee" as a family show that both adults and children would like. He said each show has a main idea or theme. He chooses the songs to help move the story along. Critics have praised the talent of the young singers and the show's humor. One critic calls it the first television show in a long time that is just plain fun.   Last month, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated "Glee" for four Golden Globe Awards, including Best Comedy Series.

The second CD of music from "Glee" was released last month. Here Amber Riley sings "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from the Broadway musical "Dreamgirls."

I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Shelley Gollust and Caty Weaver, who was also the producer.