The Bar (And Not the Good Kind)

The primary goal of our blog is to spread knowledge – not only deep historical knowledge or facts surrounding current events that have become somewhat muddled, but also random, everyday knowledge; knowledge about the kind of things that make you wonder “Huh, I  wonder where that came from.”  During Abe’s Etymology Hour, that is the sort of question we will attempt to answer. Etymology is the study of the origin of words and their development throughout history. We are particularly fascinated with words, and constantly find ourselves wondering where a word or phrase came from.  However, this  piece will not be limited to words – it will look into the origins of a plethora of everyday practices, items, habits, you name it!  If you have any ideas for us, leave us a comment and we will write a piece about it.

Today, we will actually focus on a word, as opposed to our first etymology hour.  We wanted to know how “Bar” came to be associated with the legal profession.  Knowing lawyers and their tendencies, we assumed that it had something to do with the consumption of barrels of Scotch.  Sadly, at least for entertainment’s sake, we were wrong.

The Bar

“Bar” has been adopted as a general term regarding the legal profession.  There are hundreds of bar associations for attorneys practicing different types of law, and one has to pass a bar exam in order to be admitted to practice.  As illustrated to the right, many courts have a railing or partition separating the judge, parties, and jury from the rest of the courthouse.  In medieval times, this partition was only made up of a bar.  Only people within the bar were allowed to partake in the legal proceedings at hand.  Everyone else was literally barred from participating.  The term gained wide acceptance because of a custom in England in the 1600s.  The Inns of Court, one of the original English law schools, had a railing dividing its hall where students would occupy one side and attorneys could be on the other.  Upon completion of their studies, students would be allowed to cross the symbolic physical barrier and were thus “admitted to the bar.”  I think everyone can agree that while this is interesting, it would have been much better if a drinking-bar had been involved.  If only the bar exam were as easy and rewarding as in the Coors Light commercials…


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