View previous topic | View next topic

Were you born in a barn?

Page 1 of 3
Goto page 1, 2, 3  Next

620834.  Fri Oct 02, 2009 5:32 am Reply with quote


Obviously this means "Please close the door" but how did it come about? It turns out it probably isn't anything to do with barns originaly, although it is true that barn doors were usually left open all day, well, until the cows come home anyway. “Barns” originally referred to buildings used for storing barley. The word is derived from combining two words in Old English: bere, meaning barley, and ern, meaning house, but I digress.

It seems the phrase was originally "were you born in Bardney". The Witham Valley in Lincolnshire was the site of several monasteries including Tupholme* Abbey and Bardney itself.

The first to be built was Bardney, endowed by Ethelred, King of Mercia, and its fame and popularity was sealed when it became a shrine to St Oswald. King Oswald was killed in battle in ad 642 and his body was brought to Bardney - even though his head went separately to Lindisfarne and his arms to Bamburgh.

On the night that Oswald's bones arrived, the monks shut the abbey gates and refused to allow the coffin in. During the night a 'pillar of light' shone skywards from the cart and convinced the monks that Oswald was indeed a saint and that they had been wrong to shut his coffin out. Ever after, so the story goes, they left their gates wide open - hence the saying "Do you come from Bardney?", meaning that you have left a door open.

* Tupholme is another 'Sheep Island' btw like Sheppey and Soay and others previously mentioned

Whilst I'm about it Jesus was likely born in a guestroom, that is to say the living area of a private house off which lay bedrooms and which doubled as guest accommodation. All these rooms lay above the safe night quarters for animals - their body heat would make the human quarters warmer. Perhaps Mary was unable to climb a ladder to the kataluma 'in her condition' before or indeed after childbirth but I'd bet the newborn infant was taken upstairs into the warm.

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).
Joseph certainly had relatives there in Bethlehem surely a distant cousin or someone would have taken pity on their plight. But when we look at the word "inn" in Greek we discover something interesting. There we find the word kataluma, but kataluma doesn't actually mean inn it means guestroom. In the story of the Good Samaritan the wounded man in taken to an inn a pandokheion, a public inn. If Luke had meant Mary and Joseph had stayed at a public inn he probably would have used pandokheion in the birth narrative passage as well. Instead he chose to use kataluma a guestroom.

Last edited by Celebaelin on Sat Oct 03, 2009 9:19 am; edited 1 time in total

620871.  Fri Oct 02, 2009 7:17 am Reply with quote

Quite Interesting indeed!

I always assumed "were you born in a barn?" was a reference to the sort of manners one would develop if raised by animals. I think I've occasionally heard it extended to other uncouth types of behaviour (chewing with your mouth open, etc.) -- probably by other people operating under the same assumption.

620891.  Fri Oct 02, 2009 8:12 am Reply with quote

I thought it was because some barns are open-sided.

620893.  Fri Oct 02, 2009 8:22 am Reply with quote

I've also heard "Were you born in a field?", and assumed it was implying that one was too tolerant of a draught. (Yes, spellchecker, "draught". I've set you to British English!)
I suppose it is better than being born in a crossfire hurricane.

620897.  Fri Oct 02, 2009 8:52 am Reply with quote

Because a barn dosn't have sides (i.e. Dutch barns). If it did have walls, it would be a byre (where the coos go at night).

Prof Wind Up Merchant
621009.  Fri Oct 02, 2009 2:06 pm Reply with quote

If you were born in a barn would you be called "Barney".

621358.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 1:11 pm Reply with quote

In the US the phrase is, "Were you raised in a barn?" and almost certainly refers to the common habit of leaving a barn door open while working in or around it - something we still do with garages as the door would simply get in the way, is too large to conveniently move while carrying stuff, and does little to protect from the elements during working hours.

If the original poster's quite interesting story were the origin of the phrase, I would expect it to have become, "Are you from Bardney?" or "What are you, a Bardney monk?" Having simply been born there would not impart a habit of leaving a door open. Nor would having been raised there necessarily mean that you would be taught to regularly leave the door open.

Traditionally, children were reared and animals were raised. So I suspect there is an implication that you lived as a child in a barn with farm animals or are one yourself (indeed, barnyard animals are horrible at closing doors). However, it could also be a more modern interpretation of raised/reared and simply be a question of whether or not you spent your childhood working in and around barns. The latter seems less likely to me.

Least likely is this Bardney business. That is unless the story of King Oswald was incredibly common throughout England (or at least the parts that came to the new world) for several centuries.

I suspect an elf's inquiry into the topic will find "Were you raised/born in a barn?" to have been coined within the last 200 years. If someone asked me if I were born in a barn, I would assume it was a reference to Jesus and would think it an odd compliment. That bit about the original Hebrew in Luke is QI indeed!

621418.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 2:33 pm Reply with quote

thedrew wrote:
In the US the phrase is, "Were you raised in a barn?" and almost certainly refers to the common habit of leaving a barn door open while working in or around it

Do you have anything to support this assertion?

621425.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 3:02 pm Reply with quote

thedrew wrote:
That bit about the original Hebrew in Luke is QI indeed!

Luke, being Greek, wrote both Luke and Acts in Greek.

As for the rest of it

Were you born in a barn?
Rur. an expression chiding someone who has left a door open or who is ill-mannered or messy.

raised in a barn
brought up to behave like a barnyard animal; having crude behavior. Close the door behind you! Were you raised in a barn? Don't wipe your nose on your sleeve. Were you raised in a barn?

The whole point is that the story is obscure so people (allegedly) changed the expression from the little known Bardney to a word everyone would recognise. As regards the date the only reference I've found so far for the 'barn' version is "mid 19th century or earlier".

Being American you are of course fully justified in ignoring any historical events that occurred prior to 1492 ; )

Last edited by Celebaelin on Sat Oct 03, 2009 3:14 pm; edited 1 time in total

621426.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 3:05 pm Reply with quote

Only experience. I don't know if anyone has studied farming habits. It just doesn't make sense to close the door when there's nothing particuarly valuable or mobile inside during the day. Stables you would close, but not a barn door.

Also, I've never heard "born in a barn," as a reference to leaving a door open. Though my grandfather would say things like, "You weren't born in a barn," when correcting my manners.

621428.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 3:13 pm Reply with quote

Last edited by bemahan on Sat Oct 03, 2009 4:48 pm; edited 1 time in total

621452.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 4:29 pm Reply with quote

The sense of a link between not minding a door being open and being born in a barn is not disputed. It doesn't, however, invalidate Celaebelin's claims about the origins of the phrase; quite the opposite it seems.

621456.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 4:48 pm Reply with quote

I've never heard the phrase 'Were you born in a barn?' used. Much more common to my ear is 'Were you born in a tent?' and it doesn't mean 'Please close the door', rather 'You've left the bloody door open (again)!'

621500.  Sat Oct 03, 2009 9:42 pm Reply with quote

I wouldn't claim to disprove the original poster's theory. I am just skeptical given the seemingly straight forward origin related to barn doors. It can be that the term was transformed through the generations by people mishearing things. Just as "scan" has come to mean the same thing as "skim" even though they are opposites, so too can a small town become a common rural structure. It just seems much less likely.

Also, many origin stories (Children's songs about the Black Plague for instance) seem to be mostly wishful thinking than actual etymology. It may well be true, I just have my doubts.

621543.  Sun Oct 04, 2009 5:01 am Reply with quote

Doubt away, but if there is evidence to the contrary, that's generally considered more convincing.

Evidence to support a position rather than just opinions are generally more constructive and accurate. It's how things tend to be done here anyway.


Page 1 of 3
Goto page 1, 2, 3  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours

Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group