It’s Friday afternoon, a time of drinking and merriment throughout the world. As such, today’s post will focus on two words related to imbibing: pub and bar. Although similar in meaning, these terms seem to have different meanings depending on dialect.
Let me state this for the record: Americans do, in fact, use the word “pub.” Set foot in most small American towns, and you’ll read signs for Brian’s Pub, TJ’s Pub, Slider’s Pub and Restaurant, or similar variations. This is not a word foreign to American soil.
Given, bar is more common here when referring to establishments of this type. Yet “pub” seems to have its own niche in American English that I can’t put my finger on. What exactly is a “pub” to an American?
One possible answer is indicated above: it’s more the provenance of business titles than everday speech. You could argue that “pub” in America is similar to the word mart: you might see signs for the Food Mart or Value Mart, but you’re unlikely to say, “I’m going down to the mart to pick up some eggs.”
And yet I’ve used “pub” in everyday discourse. I doubt I’m the only American to do so. But there are some restrictions on this usage. For example, if I were to ask a friend …
“Do you want to go to a pub tonight?”
…my friend will certainly understand what I mean. But the question will sound strange and affected coming from my American lips. On the other hand, I could also ask…
“Do you want to go to that nice little pub down the street?”
…and this feels more natural. In my idiolect, then, I use “pub” to refer to a specific establishment, rather than a general type of establishment. There are qualitative shades of meaning to this word for me as well: a “pub” is somewhere homey, quieter, relaxed; a “bar” the kind of raucous place you tried to sneak into as a teenager.
In this thread about this topic in wordreference.com’s language forum, you’ll see that many people make the same association. Pub = homey, darts, food; bar = loud, no food, seedy.
Is it possible then, that the different frequencies of “pub” and “bar” on each side of the Atlantic are a matter of what kind of businesses are typical of each? You can find amazing pubs in any U.S. city, but they are probably outnumbered by dark, loud, alchohol-centric places. Likewise, Britain and Ireland have their share of sleazy “bars.” But for both countries, the kind of place where a working-man can enjoy a quiet pint in the afternoon still dominates.
Regardless of whether you go to pubs or bars (or just stay home), happy friday.