Bar vs. Debar

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

Could you perhaps elaborate on the use of the verbs “bar” and “debar” in the sense of “exclude from”? The sources available to me are not clear in this instance.

Both verbs are figurative expressions that derive from a use of the object called a bar: “a straight piece of wood, metal, or other rigid material, long in proportion to its thickness.” Bars are used to limit the ability of people or animals to enter or leave an area.

As a verb, bar has these uses:

1. to make a place secure by placing bars or other obstacles across openings
Coinneach’s mother barred the opening with her stick and waited.

When these parties were out of the house, he locked up the doors, and barred the windows by nailing boards and slats across them to prevent entry in that direction.

The first portion of the descent is through the narrow gorge of La Chaine, so called from a chain having been stretched across it by the Swiss to bar the entrance. 

2. to forbid entrance to a place (figuratively)
A mayor in Florida says he is barring Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump from his city after the businessman’s latest idea to prevent Muslims from entering the United States.

Lawyer attempts to bar journalists from court proceedings

3. to prevent an action, activity, or event
While there are many reasons to bar a person from leaving Malaysia, the Immigration Department can only do so for people having invalid passports.

Police dogs barred from crowd-control duty in St. Louis following review of Ferguson protests

Debar entered English from a French verb meaning “to unbar, to remove bars.” In modern English usage, however, debar is used with the following meanings:

1. to exclude or shut out from a place or condition.
2. to set a bar or prohibition against; to prohibit, prevent, forbid.

Here are recent examples of the use of debar:

Bengal is one of the eight teams debarred from FIFA’S Boys (U-13) Football Festival for fielding over-aged players in the team.

The new rule, that a student might participate in only two of the three seasons for athletics, at once debarred Captain Randall, of the baseball team.

A total of 230 commerce students—75 each from the first-, second- and third-year— of N M College have been debarred from appearing for their semester-end examinations that start this weekend for failing to fulfill the minimum attendance criterion.

Many writers more or less openly announce their desire to see motor-cars abolished and debarred from the use of the highway altogether. (From a 1902 source)

Well into the twentieth century women were debarred from sitting on juries.

Both verbs are used to mean exclude or prevent, but to bar is far more common than to debar.

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1 Response to “Bar vs. Debar”

  • thebluebird11

    I guess I was also expecting to see “disbar” in here as long as you were talking about the bar LOL

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