I’m going out "to the bar"

This latest idea was brought to my attention by reader Brian. Why do we say that we’re going out “to the bar” when we could mean a multitude of bars?

I say “to the bar,” however, I’ve only said it for the past year or so. Granted, I just turned 23, so it could be an age thing.

Until recently, I would say, “We’re going out to the Hong Kong,” or, “We’re going out to the bars on Boylston Street.” I would always make it specific to a certain bar or location. If I didn’t generalize, I would say, “We’re going out to the bars.” I would say that in Boston. At Fairfield, I would always specify the particular bar. During my semester in Florence, I would always specify the bar as well, because we always, always knew exactly where we were going at the beginning of the night.

So, why did this change?

I think I just started repeating what my friends here in Boston said. Again, being so young (and not much of a bar-hopper compared to most of my friends), I’m relatively new to the bar scene, so I decided that I might as well repeat what more experienced bar-hoppers said, therefore making me sound more in the know.

It doesn’t make sense. Why would I say that I’m going out to the bar if I may hit up three or four?

I guess “the bar” is right up there with “prom.” It has been invented, it varies from place to place, and nobody is even positive where it originated.

Time for another poll! Do you say, “I’m going out to the bar,” when you could mean any bar in particular?

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14 responses to “I’m going out "to the bar"

  1. I think you need to address the Timbaland song “The Way I Are.”

  2. My thought? It’s no different than saying, “She’s in the hospital.” There are certain nouns which convention dictates that we use with a definite article (or lack thereof when you might expect one.) We swim in “the ocean” (not the Pacific Ocean). We take “the bus,” not “a bus” or “Bus 179.”

  3. I was thinking about this slightly intoxicated a few nights ago. A friend was telling me a story that went something like this. “the other night at the bar…”
    I assumed that she was referring to it that way because they were at a place that was familiar to me, but that was not the case.
    I try my best to say things like “We are going to bars tonight.” or “I was at a bar on Tuesday.”
    I’m not particularly sure if the former is grammatically correct.

  4. Dear Grammar Vandal,

    Are you familiar with the website http://www.engrish.com? You’ll find much fodder there for your fire! (I’ve literally never laughed so hard in my life.)

  5. If the place in question is familiar to the people who are discussing it, then saying “I’m going to the bar” is perfectly acceptable. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense.

  6. Saw this in Dear Annie:

    Dear Annie: I just read the letter about the origins of “beck and call” and have a grammar issue of my own. We often hear phrases based on “All men are created equal.” Wouldn’t the proper word be “equally,” since it is an adverb describing a verb? I even hear the president and others use this phrase. Am I the only one bugged by this, or am I wrong? Thanks for solving these major issues in life. — Eydie in Louisville, Ky.

    Dear Eydie: We understand your confusion, and although we are not grammar experts, we will give it our best shot. The phrase “All men are created equal” is best known from the U.S. Constitution. (Let’s not get into the gender issue. That’s another column.) The confusion may come from the use of the passive voice. “Equal” is not describing how the men are created. They all have the same body parts. It is actually describing the men themselves, that they have equal worth as human beings. If any grammar experts have a better explanation, please write us.

    Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@comcast.net, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. To find out more about Annie’s Mailbox, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at http://www.creators.com.

    http://www.creators.com/lifestylefeatures/annies-mailbox.html?columnsName=ama

  7. British and Canadian usage drops the article when it comes to “hospital” and “university.”

    American: “She’s in the hospital.”
    British: “She’s in hospital.”
    American: “He’s going to the university next year.”
    (However, “He’s going to college next year.”)
    Canadian: “He’s going to university next year.”

    Otherwise, which article you use (if any) depends on what you know (or assume) about the listener’s knowledge. And it isn’t consistent.

    “I’m going out to the bar.” That’s OK if you both know which bar it is.
    “I’m going out to a bar.” Neither you nor the listener knows which bar.

    On the other hand, “I’m going to the laundry today” or “I’m going to buy milk at the supermarket.” What’s implied here is that it could be any of several laundries or supermarkets, but it doesn’t matter which!

  8. There are many instances in common usage where the definite article is used when we don’t strictly mean it: on the street, in the bedroom, at the races, on the job, on the beach, at the doctor’s, .. the list goes on. So when Kate says she is going “to the bar”, I know what she means without knowing the exact identity of the (no doubt) salubrious establishment that she intends to grace with her presence.

    On a side note, as someone who is both British and Canadian and lives in the USA, I’m going to have to disagree slightly with Herb. The Brits do tend to drop the “the” in some cases: “in hospital”, and “in future”, being two that come to mind. The Canadians do not. With respect to the words university and college, Brits and Canucks say “he’s going to university in the fall”; Americans say “he’s going to college in the fall”. Nobody uses “the” in this context unless they are talking about, not only a specific university or college, but a specific trip.

  9. There are some really great comments here. I particularly like examples like “the beach,” “the movies” and “the hospital.”

    Jenny, I have seen engrish.com and it’s a pretty funny site! I’m not sure if that’s the kind of stuff that I would post here, since I mostly go after English-speaking companies who can afford to hire an editor.

    These days, I mostly say “go out” instead of “go out to the bar.” When I say “go out,” I usually mean “go out drinking.”

    It makes sense to me, but not to others. I told my mom the other day that I haven’t been out all summer, and she yelled, “YOU HAVE TO STOP WRITING THAT BLOG AND GET A SOCIAL LIFE!” I’ve been to restaurants and the movies with my friends, in addition to just hanging out and doing stuff in Boston, but I haven’t really been to the bars much this summer. I had to clarify that.

  10. Dear Annie,

    The phrase “all men are created equal” does not come from the US Constitution, it comes from the Declaration of Independence. I don’t know about the grammar experts, but perhaps a 7th grade course in US History might be in order.

  11. There’s also the slightly quaint phrase “at table”. Another example:

    “We’re going to church (or temple or shul)” (i.e., to worship services) vs. “We’re going to the church/temple/shul [to drop off some cans for the soup kitchen].” The convention seems to be that the definite article specifies the nature of your visit to a house of worship. I’m not sure why that is or how it came about.

  12. I think people just need to be more specific! I can’t think of a situation in the past where I didn’t just state my final destination. “I’m going to Brew Co. to sing karaoke.” It’s nice, easy, and specific! Also, in my experience, I hardly ever hear people say “to the bar” or “to the bars.” “Go out” is usually the phrase of choice.

  13. Anonymous: Ouch! You’re correct, but wasn’t that a bit harsh? I’m sure it was just an honest mistake, one that anyone could have made.

  14. Word history on ‘prom’:
    http://www.word-detective.com/090699.html#promrodeo

    (and on ‘rodeo,’ too – Bonus!)

    When I was in high school many moons ago, it was THE prom. But my much younger brother just calls it prom – and at the exact same high school, no less. Generational, I suppose. Or perhaps the nefarious influence of cultural mainstreaming through Disney’s High School Musical and the like.

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