To the Bar

Everyone knows what a barista is. We all have been to Starbucks at least once in our lifetime, either with a friend or addicted selves. But, where did barista come from?

First, the definition: a man who serves you your coffee. It’s an Italian word and is nothing more than a barman. The -ist suffix in barista means practitioner. A bar is a rod of wood or iron that can be used to fasten a gate. This is how the idea of a slab of wood between the patron and the barristers you see at bars (taverns in medieval society) and, ahem, coffee shops.

Five hundred years ago, all English lawyers were required to train at the Inns of Court in London. They were lodging houses for the students of law and didn’t serve beer. Originally, inn meant house. During this time, it would resemble a modern-day dormitory.

The internal arrangement of the Inns of Court was Byzantine and there were people called the Readers, who were clever people and sat in an Inner Sanctum separated from the other students by a large bar.

The lesser students would sit around reading, studying and dreaming of the day they would be called to the bar. But, it was a complicated process as there was inner baristas and outer barristers who had relationships with sheriffs, and just when you thought you had a grip on the idea after a few years, the meaning of bar was changed.

About 1600 the word bar started to apply to a wooden railing that ran around every courtroom in England, where prisoners had to stand while the judge sentenced them. The defendant’s barristers would stand next to them and plead their case. The prosecuting lawyer would insist that the prisoner was guilty and ready to present his case. He would say, in French, Culpable: prest d’averrer nostre bille, which was a mouthful and eventually shortened to cul-prit.

Then, the defendant’s future was handed to the jury, and if the jury couldn’t decide they would declare we don’t know, but in Latin, ignoramus.

As the years went by barristers went to baristas who serve you coffee at coffee houses as barristers specialize in litigation and courtroom advocacy, both separated by a bar.