Par none

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An eggcorn that hasn't yet been catalogued: "par none" for "bar none". I've mislaid the link where I first saw this, but there are plenty of examples on the web, from the realtor who advertises herself as providing "Service par none" to the hotel review titled "Excellence par none".

The original expression "bar none" involves the use of bar as a sort of preposition-in-training, glossed by the OED as "Excluding from consideration, excepting, except, save, but for", with the earliest examples dating from the 18th century:

1714 MANDEVILLE Fab. Bees (1725) I. 306 Charity-boys..that swear and curse..and, bar the cloaths, are as much blackguard as ever Tower-hill..produc'd. 1727 SWIFT To Sheridan Wks. 1745 VIII. 348, I intended to be with you at Michaelmas, bar impossibilities.

The earliest citation for the specific collocation bar none, glossed as "with no exceptions", is from the late 19th century:

1866 M. E. BRADDON Lady's Mile (ed. 4) II. vii. 192 Your ‘Aspasia’ is the greatest picture that ever was painted — ‘bar none’, as Mr. Lobyer would say.

Today, the general "except" usage of bar is rare enough that a native speaker of English wrote to the Word Reference Forum asking for an explanation of "It's all over bar the shouting", but the idiom "bar none" remains fairly common.

The re-interpretation of "bar none" as "par none" appears to arise from the sense of the noun par that the OED glosses as "equality of value or standing", used in expressions like "on a par with". The idea, I guess, is that "service par none" is "service that has no equal", "unmatched service".

This construal of "par none" would be syntactically idiosyncratic — which is probably why it isn't more common — but it gets some syntactic (though not semantic) support from the golfing idiom "par N", meaning that N is the expected stroke count for a hole.

By the way, in that 1866 citation for "bar none", the attribution to "Mr. Lobyer" is clearly meant as a clue that the expression, like Mr. Lobyer, is not quite the thing. The immediately following paragraph begins:

The little bit of slang escaped poor Flo's lips in the midst of her sentiment; but the painter was too deeply moved to be cognisant of the vile phrase which concluded his daughter's exordium. He took her up in his arms and kissed her tenderly.

Here's the passage introducing Mr. Lobyer:

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35 Comments »

  1. richard howland-bolton said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 7:24 am

    Not at all relevant, but it's strange that they seem to have bound the two volumes together in decreasing order. Or maybe it's just another googlapse.

  2. Harry Styron said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 7:36 am

    "Par none" seems to be a confused form of "non pareil," with a similar meaning.

  3. Dan Scherlis said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 7:52 am

    @rb-h (googlapse)

    Googlephasia?

  4. John Cowan said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 8:18 am

    Richard, it's like that old riddle: A two-volume work stands on a bookshelf. Each volume is two inches thick, including hard covers which are each 1/8 inch thick. A worm eats its way from the first page of the first volume to the last page of the second: how far does it travel?

    Bar as a preposition is probably older than the OED thinks. Though the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire dates only from the 19th century. its authors would scarcely have used the word in the refrain "On Ilkley Moor bar 't hat" unless it was a familiar one in the dialect.

    [(myl) I suspect that this is actually (details of spelling aside) "baht ' hat", with the preposition "baht" being a form of but, for which the OED has

    1. Outside of, without.
    Only in OE. (see BOUT), exc. in mod.Sc. in such phrases as but the house: see BUT adv. 1e.

    2. Without, apart from, unprovided with, void of. (Used in Sc. since 14th c. but now obsolescent. The ME. was boute, BOUT, q.v.

    3. Leaving out, barring, with the exception of, except, save. Distinctly a preposition in OE.

    If so, it's got no connection to bar.]

  5. Mark P said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 8:20 am

    It sounds like there might be some confusion with "par excellence." Could it be that there is more familiarity with the spoken expressions than the written expressions? It's easy to see how "bar" and "par" could be confused in spoken English.

  6. John McNair said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 8:40 am

    "Par none" could also be confused with, or some sort of "de-Frenchifying" of, nonpareil.

  7. D. Sky Onosson said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 9:27 am

    I would just like to say that I *really* like "preposition-in-training".

  8. Chris said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 9:41 am

    I wondered about other variations of this, so I did a little googling and I discovered a real gem: no holds parred!!! There are very few examples, mostly coming from porn DVDs and B-action movies (can't get the HTML link to work in this comments box, but y'all can just search on "no holds parred").

  9. Ellen K. said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 9:51 am

    @sarra: True, but the first person who responded, the one who answered the initial question did ask about the use of "bar" in the saying. (Actually, technically, the first poster there did ask for an explanation of the saying, but not due to confusion about the word "bar", which she herself notes means "except".)

  10. Ken Brown said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    @John Cowan: "Bar as a preposition is probably older than the OED thinks. Though the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire dates only from the 19th century. its authors would scarcely have used the word in the refrain "On Ilkley Moor bar 't hat" unless it was a familiar one in the dialect."

    Is that a subtle joke? The phrase is "baht 'at" = "without hat" (& not "except hat") The poor man has forgotten his hat in his haste to go a-courting Mary Jane, or perhaps he has daringly left it off to show off his latest hairstyle – he is not barred from wearing it.

    I suspect that "baht" in goes back a long way, though I don't know for sure. (Is it in the OED? – I don't have a copy here – it isn't in the online copy of Wright's dialect dictionary that I can see, and most Google searches for it are hard to disentangle from the many references to Thai currency)

    [(myl) I believe that this is covered in the OED's entry for but -- see my response to John Cowan here.]

    Old or new, its hardly likely to have come from "bar" – even though Southerners (like me) might use the same or similar vowels for both words now (though we are only ever likely to use "baht" when putting on a stage Northern accent) that would have not been the case in the rhotic past, North or South. And I think the vowels are probably different in Yorkshire accents anyway.

  11. NW said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 10:57 am

    Yorkshire 'baht' is not in the OED, or I would have commented on this myself. I then merely presume it's be+out, with reduced b- as in 'but and ben' or 'abaft' and 'above'.

    [(myl) Though I know nothing about Yorkshire varieties of English, my money would be on but, as discussed here in my response to John Cowan.

    It's true, I think, that OE bútan was derived from "by" + "out" (or rather from their West Germanic predecessors), but I also think that this was opaque long before the development of modern Yorkshire varieties of English.]

  12. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    If a golfer bogeyed every hole, it would be "no holes parred."

  13. MJ said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    @Chris

    No holes parred. :)

  14. MJ said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    Whoops, didn't see Ralph's post there . . .

  15. Boris said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

    Interesting. I'd think neither par nor bar are in everyday speech outside fixed expressions. I never knew what bar meant in bar none nor what par meant in on par with. Though barring is, of course, common, so if anything, I would reanalize the bar in bar none as a command "don't bar anything" based on the verb.

  16. Terry Hunt said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

    In the UK, at least, decreasing familiarity with this meaning of 'bar' may be related to the decreasing relative popularity of horse-racing. In pre-race TV commentary, it is (or at least was) usual to repeatedly list the (rapidly changing) current betting in the form of, say, "2-to-1 Best Boy, 4-to-1 Lighting, 7-to-1 Archie's Folly, 20-to-1 bar 3," where "bar 3" meant, "all the other horses in the race except the three already mentioned."

  17. Sili said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

    Shakespeare walks into a pub.
    The publican says: We can't serve you here.
    S: Whyever not?
    P: You're bar'd.

  18. Aaron Davies said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

    I once read a novel called Touch Not the Cat; the title came from a Scots family's motto "Touch not the cat bot the glove." with "bot" being glossed as archaic English (I would now assume actually Scots, in this context) for "without". Presumably this is the same word as Yorkshire "baht".

    [(myl) Indeed. See here.]

  19. Xmun said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

    I find it hard to accept that "bar" and "except" (and "save" too for that matter) are really prepositions. They are verbs in the imperative mood. Or they were once, and have since been reanalysed as prepositions.

    [(myl) Most prepositions were originally nouns or verbs or compound sequences of some sort. Look up the etymology of because or across, or see e.g. Matti Rissanen, "Despite or notwithstanding? The development of concessive prepositions in English".]

  20. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

    But isn't "barring" still commonly used as a preposition meaning "except"? At least Merriam-Webster Online doesn't call it archaic.

  21. mollymooly said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

    "Bar none" is a cousin of "all bar n", for some n > 0. Query "bar_PRP _CRD" on BNC gives 6 matches, with n = 1, 1, 1, 3, 4, 5. The "All Bar One" chain of pubs is an irritating demi-pun on this.

    @Terry Hunt: on Irish TV I recall it as "20-to-one bar", rather than "20-to-one bar 3"; that way the announcer didn't have to keep count of how many prices had already been listed.

  22. Ken Brown said,

    July 16, 2010 @ 8:25 pm

    "bar" in racing odds is current English for me but I don't think I ever associated it with the other uses of the word. It sounds plausible though.

    "bar none" and so on presumably relates to a bar as an obstacle or gate or barrier. In place names in England what we would now call a gate of a city is often called "bar" – as in Temple Bar in London. A placename "gate" is more usually a street leading to the way out of the city – especially in the north but also in London as in "Bishopsgate"

  23. Ben said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 12:51 am

    @Ken Brown: There is also the idiom "behind bars" (incarcerated).

  24. Joyce Melton said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 3:54 am

    Mary Stewart was the author of that "Touch Not the Cat" book. The cat in the story was the English/Scottish wildcat, supposedly untamable hence the family motto.

  25. Max said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 5:45 am

    Apparently, Bar One at one time used the slogan "Bar One's the Best Bar, Bar None"

  26. Chris Vosburg said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 9:23 am

    A new landlord left a note that made me smile, and now, thanks to you, I have a name for it.

    "A rent deposit box has been provided for your connivance."

    That's an eggcorn, right?

    [(myl) Actually, that one is a classic malapropism, where the substituted word or phrase is vaguely similar in sound, but doesn't make sense (other than perhaps as a joke). Original examples from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan's play The Rivals include "pineapple" for "pinnacle" and "allegory" for "alligator".]

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    @myl: Thanks for this fine eggcorn.

    For anyone who's wondering, the "vile phrase" is jolly, and the narration's harsh characterization of it may be irony, since Flo reason for thinking it "horrid" and "horrible" is that the vulgar Mr. Lobyer uses it.

  28. Rodger C said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    In his handy Penguin Historical Atlases from the 1960s and 70s, Colin McEvedy constantly used "bar" to mean "except." I understood it but found it odd and distracting.

  29. Chris Vosburg said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    myl writes: Actually, that one is a classic malapropism, where the substituted word or phrase is vaguely similar in sound, but doesn't make sense (other than perhaps as a joke).

    Thanks for that, but with all due respect, the relationship between my landlord and me is all about connivance. The check is in the mail, honest!

    Also, this begs the question: how does the word "eggcorn" make sense as a substitute for "acorn?"

  30. Ben said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

    @Chris Vosburg, from the Eggcorn Database entry for the word eggcorn itself:

    WORD HISTORY: A thoughtful glance at the word acorn might produce the surmise that it is made up of oak and corn, especially if we think of corn in its sense of “a kernel or seed of a plant,” as in peppercorn. The fact that others thought the word was so constituted partly accounts for the present form acorn. Here we see the workings of the process of linguistic change known as folk etymology, an alteration in form of a word or phrase so that it resembles a more familiar term mistakenly regarded as analogous. Acorn actually goes back to Old English æcern, “acorn,” which in turn goes back to the Indo-European root *g–, meaning “fruit, berry.”

  31. Ben said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

    Sorry, I clicked submit before finishing explaining the train of logic. The final point being that the etymology of the term "acorn" itself resembles the idea behind "egg corn".

  32. Ben said,

    July 17, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

    Also acorns roughly resemble eggs in shape and size.

  33. Chris Vosburg said,

    July 18, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    Thanks, Ben, I think I now see the difference between Mrs. Malaprop's dyslexia and the typical eggcorn. It seems a bit of a stretch to descibe an acorn as egg-shaped, but actually I'm sure this is true for many other eggcorns– witness the rationale for "easedrop"– typically, referring to the "ease" with which one "drops" in on a conversation. First time I heard this one, I clenched my teeth, but remembered my Daddy's advice: "Always lead your target, son," and clocked him proper with a deftly thrown Merriam-Webster 10th just as he got to the door.

    But this of course set me to wondering if there shouldn't be a separate category established for our modern computer-enhanced lifestyle in which helpful spellcheck software substitutes a best guess for a misspelled word– as I presume to be the case in my landlord's note mentioned above– with comical result. Don't be such a clown, Clippy!

  34. Colin John said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 8:28 am

    I lay claim to 'Touch not the Cat'. It is the motto of Clan McGillivray, which I am descended from on my mother's side. Interestingly McGillivray forms part of the larger Clan Chattan – but I don't think that's a cat reference.

  35. Jennifer Stevenson said,

    June 2, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    "Bar" in "bar none" is not a preposition, it is a verb whose context has been truncated. You're all tipsy.

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