A matter of likelihood.
Dear Word Detective: We were driving home tonight and passed our neighbor’s house, in front of which he had piled a precarious mountain of odds and ends on top of the wheelie bin to be emptied by the trash folks in the morning. Knowing the persnickety standards of the local “waste management” company, my wife said, “I don’t think they like that like that.” For some reason, those two “likes” piqued my curiosity and I wondered if, and how, “like” the verb is related to that other “like,” whatever part of speech it is. — Alan C.
In that particular case, it’s either an adverb or an adjective, but “like that” is an established idiom, and idioms are weird, so it’s a bit hard to pin down. In any case, “like” can also serve as a preposition, conjunction and noun (as in Facebook “likes”). Speaking of weirdness, had I been in the back seat of your car at that moment, I might well have started humming a song from the early 1960s called “I Like It Like That,” written and recorded by Chris Kenner and Alan Toussaint in 1961 and later covered by the Dave Clark Five. The refrain of the song was “The name of the place is I like it like that,” and while it lacks the narrative subtlety of, say, “Louie Louie,” it’s a catchy tune.
The two “likes” are indeed related, both coming ultimately from a Germanic root (“likam”) that meant “body, shape, form,” with the added sense of “same.” The verb “to like” is somewhat older than the adjective in English, first appearing in Old English as “lician.” Curiously, the original meaning of the verb “to like” in English was “to be pleasing or suitable,” rather than “to be pleased or find suitable.” Thus if you were happy with your dinner, you might well announce that “It likes me.” This usage persisted into the 19th century (“I rode sullenly Upon a certain path that liked me not.” D.G. Rossetti, 1861), but beginning in the 12th century our modern transitive form (to find agreeable, attractive, admirable, etc.) gradually became more common. “Like” has produced dozens of idioms in English (e.g., “Like it or lump it”); interestingly, when applied to people, “like” is often used in explicit or implicit contrast to “love,” connoting a weaker emotion.
“Like” as an adjective came from Middle English, followed by the adverb, preposition and conjunction a bit later. The adjective “like” carries the sense of similarity and resemblance: something is “like” something else. As an adverb, “like” means “in the manner, fashion or to the extent of something or someone” (“Bob dances like a robot”), which leads us to the idiom “like that,” in which the “that” refers to something indicated or previously mentioned (“What was the use of his talking like that?” 1872).
Incidentally, “like” the adjective originally had comparative (“liker”) and superlative (“likest”) forms, but these have long since faded away. On the bright side, we still have the handy adjectives “alike” and “likely.” Interestingly, “likely” originally meant simply “resembling,” but it came to mean “probable” in the late 14th century, based on the sense of “resembling the truth or what is known.”
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
Just under the line again. It’s spooky, isn’t it? Especially because in real life I’m pathologically early for everything. I used to show up at my job every day at least 1/2 hour before my shift started.
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As usual, we seem to have skipped spring again this year and plunged straight into summer, with all its attendant horrors. I hate summer. Hate. We went for a walk down our road one evening about a week ago. (Actually, Kathy walks and I sort of hobble/shuffle along.) Just as we turned around to go back, I saw one of the local honor students driving his daddy’s pickup down the middle of the road at us at an insane speed. So I stepped off the side of the road to play it safe, lost my balance (quelle surprise), and landed face down in a drainage ditch, which happened to lie close to, and directly downhill from, a pig pen (with real pigs). I am never going outside again.
Then again, indoors has its own problems. We don’t watch a lot of TV around here, certainly nowhere near the national average of twelve hours a day or whatever (more like six hours a week, in fact), but I’ve noticed that there seems to be some sort of grand conspiracy afoot to prevent me from even approaching a proper patriotic level of grazing in the Vast Wasteland. No sooner do I start watching a show by myself (i.e., a show Kathy shuns) than said show is cancelled. Abruptly and with no hope of return.
It happened recently with an NBC show called Allegiance, which centered on a young CIA analyst who discovers that his parents are evil Russkie spies. It was, I’ll admit, a howlingly silly show, but it grew on me, right up to when they cancelled it after only five, yes five (of 13), episodes. This being the internet age, they let you watch the remaining episodes of the season online, but it still stings.
Not that this hasn’t happened before; a few years ago I was watching a sci-fi thing called The Event, which was not only very silly but occasionally completely incomprehensible. It finished its first season with a truly shocking cliffhanger. And was then cancelled. Before that there was some weird thing about aliens in a Florida swamp. Cancelled. And some time-travel dinosaur thing I barely remember. Kaput. C’mon, guys, if I can suspend my disbelief to watch your shows, at least wrap up the story line before you kick me to the curb. Right now I’m watching (on NBC — yes, I’m a slow learner) American Odyssey, which I think is kinda a blend of Homeland, Three Days of the Condor, The Bourne Identity and Homer’s Odyssey. It’s OK, but I try not to be too enthusiastic or look directly at the screen so they won’t notice me watching and cancel it.
Speaking of TV, how is it that the simpering soap opera Downton Abbey grinds on for six years, i.e., at least 40 episodes, while the brilliant Wolf Hall is crammed into only six episodes by the BBC? The two books by Hilary Mantel on which it is based (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) together top 1000 pages. They could easily have gone with 12 episodes, maybe even two seasons, and had far fewer viewers looking stuff up on Wikipedia trying to follow it. As is, it was like watching a long trailer for a wonderful series that will never be made. But the idiotic Game of Thrones is bulletproof. Oh well, I was halfway through Wolf Hall (the book) when the series started, so I guess I’ll just finish reading the books.
Elsewhere in the Vast Wasteland, I was not a huge David Letterman fan for the last ten years or so (although I will say that the show was far better on NBC), but I was quite sad when he closed up shop. End of an era, blah blah, but true. He really was the last great broadcaster, the end of a line that stretched back to Dave Garroway (whom I, obviously, only vaguely remember). Conan’s too frantic and arch, “the Jimmys” are utter ciphers, and Stephen Colbert seems too tightly wound, a really bad choice to succeed Dave. But I am often wrong, so there’s that.
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And now, on with the show…
Tee many martoonies.
Dear Word Detective: When our forefathers arrived in America some of the first buildings they built must have been “pubs,” “taverns,” and “inns.” Then, as they headed out west seeking their fortunes, suddenly they wanted to drink in “saloons.” These days we mostly cannot be bothered with any of those places and drink in “bars.” Is there a difference between all these places, and why the sudden switch to “saloons” and then “bars”? I’m parched now, time for a drink. Cheers! — Pete Ivkovic.
Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place. My complete ignorance of all things alcoholic is unmatched in North America. What can I say? I just never got into drinking. Of course, that didn’t stop me from writing a column for a bartending magazine for several years, so fasten your seatbelts.
I thought the first sentence of your question might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but you’re right. Evidently, the first Europeans to land in North America were deeply into drinking. There was said to be more beer aboard the Mayflower than there was drinking water, even the Puritans loved a good snootful, and, according to the official Colonial Williamsburg website, folks there were hammered pretty much 24/7. Who knew?
“Tavern” is one of the older of the terms you cited, and first appeared in English in the 13th century meaning “a place where wine is sold to the public.” English had borrowed “tavern” from the Old French “taverne,” which in turn was derived from the Latin “taberna,” meaning “a shed constructed of boards, a hut, workshop.” That “taberna,” by the way, eventually also gave us the English word “tabernacle,” which is a definite step up from “hut.” Today “tavern” is exclusively used to mean “drinking establishment,” and, at least in the US, “tavern” has a somewhat more refined connotation than “bar.”
“Bar,” perhaps the most basic term for such places, dates to the late 16th century and comes from the barrier or counter over which drinks are served. This is the same “bar” as in common use meaning “long rod or barrier” and comes from the Latin “barra,” meaning “barrier.” A similar railing or bar separates lawyers, et al., from the public in courtrooms, and aspiring lawyers must pass a “bar exam” to join their ilk.
“Inn” comes from the Old English “inn,” probably related to our preposition “in,” and originally meant simply “house.” By the 14th century, “inn” meant “lodging house,” usually offering drinks as well. Today many places with “Inn” in their names are merely bars putting on airs.
“Pub” is simply short for “public house” (dating to the early 17th century), an establishment that is licensed to sell alcohol to be consumed on the premises by the public (as opposed to private clubs, etc.). In the US, “pubs” ordinarily also serve food.
“Saloon” (early 18th century) is an Anglicized form of the French “salon,” originally meaning a large reception room or hall, often in a hotel. That “big room” meaning has been carried over into “saloon” used to denote private railroad cars, large automobiles, or deluxe cabins on ocean liners. “Saloon” meaning “place for drinking” dates to the mid-19th century. “Saloon” does imply a larger establishment than a simple “bar,” but the words are otherwise interchangeable.
As to why “tavern” and “inn” sound cozy to us, but “bar” seems seedy and “saloon” reeks of cowboys and breaking chairs, we can probably thank Hollywood. All these terms are essentially synonymous.