Date: Fri, 5 Sep 1997 22:20:12 -0400

From: Charles & Mary Boewe boewes[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]JUNO.COM

Subject: Re: Katie redux

On Fri, 5 Sep 1997 14:06:22 -0400 Orin Hargraves OKH[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]COMPUSERVE.COM


I have the task of defining "Katie bar the door." Would someone be

kind enough to supply a synopsis of the recent discussion of it? Sadly I

don't find it in any of my sources or saved messages.

With thanks,

Orin Hargraves

I was going to suggest that you consult the ADS-L online archive, but

when I went there to check I found all the links dead. I post this now,

in part with the hope of finding out what happend to the archive.

It happens that I initiated the Katie thread, but I am not sure when--I

think it was last October. It also happens that I bought a new computer

about that time and did take the precaution of archiving on a floppy

texts (but without dates) of things I thought I might want to reference

someday. Here follows what I saved of Katie--not the whole thread, I

think, but that part of it which seemed significant to me at the time.

Charles Boewe


When confronted by a calamity, either natural or man-made, my late father

(1898-1985) was likely to remark, "It will be Katie bar the door!" I had

supposed the expression was common to his generation and might be limited

to the Middle West. However, recently on his ABC news program, Ted

Koppel also declared that if certain things came about it would be

"Katie, bar the door."

My questions are: Who was Katie? and Why did she bar the door?

Charles Boewe


From: Cynthia Bernstein bernscy[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MAIL.AUBURN.EDU :

The following explanation is offered by Frederic G. Cassidy (Chief

Editor, Dictionary of American Regional English), in an article entitled

"DARE: Some Etymological Puzzles," forthcoming in early 1997, _Language

Variety in the South Revisited_, edited by Cynthia Bernstein, Thomas

Nunnally, and Robin Sabino, University of Alabama Press.

My final example is an expression that had a considerable vogue in sports

broadcasting early in 1991: Katie, bar the door! There is no question of

the meaning: it is a signal of alarm, accurately translated as `All hell

is about to break loose'. We have appealed for help in NADS (the

newsletter of the American Dialect Society), and in American Notes and

Queries but without much response. It seems pretty clearly to refer to

the old story of the assassination in 1437 of King James the First of

Scotland. The King was in an outbuilding, unarmed, accompanied only by

the Queen and her ladies among whom was Katherine Douglas. When the

attack came, someone shouted, "Katie, bar the door!" But the murderers

had removed the bar, so Katie Douglas thrust her arm through the staples

and held on. The men were too strong for her, her arm was broken, and

though the King defended himself, he was killed. However, the heroic deed

won Katie the nickname of Barlass, the lass who barred the door, and her

praise was sung throughout Scotland. Now, the etymological question. How

did this phrase come to be used in the United States in the late

twentieth century? My best guess at present, based on no hard evidence

but, I think, a reasonable surmise, is that Katie bar the door was a

line, perhaps the refrain, of a popular song or ballad composed at the

time of James' murder, that it was brought to America by Scottish

immigrants, as so many ballads were, and that it lingered, most likely in

Appalachia. Unfortunately, I have found no published form of this

putative ballad, and if anyone knows it and can still sing it, he or she

has not been found.

Nevertheless, Katie bar the door has been in wide use for a long time. It

is a reality, and the sense of it is exactly preserved in the form now

used by sports figures and fans. It would require only one player or one

sportscaster with Scottish roots to have revived it. Consider another

well-known Southern phrase, which once had a popular vogue in the

baseball world. "Sitting in the catbird seat" has been traced to Red

Barber, a sports broadcaster of the 1930s and 1940s. It was later used

in a short story by humorist James Thurber, who brought it to a wider

audience. Katie bar the door may well have followed a similar route. I

have come upon no competing explanation. But without some hard evidence,

this particular scenario is inconclusive. I appeal once again to all with

an interest in ballads or acquaintance with ballad singers. (pp. 280-281)

. . . . . .

Finally, Katie, bar the door. The reconstruction I have offered, however

plausible, does not produce an acceptable etymology. I hope that someone

may still find us some hard evidence. Till then, it is still etym.

uncert. (p. 281)


From: Natalie Maynor maynor[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]RA.MSSTATE.EDU :

Is the implication of what Cindy just sent us that "Katie, bar the door"

is associated with recent years more than with earlier this century? I

may be wrong, but I think it's an expression I've known all my life and

had not thought of as having had any kind of resurgence in popularity

(recent resurgence, that is -- it may well have resurged at some point

between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries).


From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM :

Your baseball team is in trouble. There are men on the basepaths. The

game is on the line. The manager comes to the mound and makes a pitching

change. He brings in his "stopper," his "closer," his "relief pitcher,"

for one specific purpose, and the manager tells him.... "Katie, bar the

door!" (No more runs, please!)

I don't know the specific sportscaster who revived it in this sense, but

if I ever get to write a sports dictionary, it's one of the things you'll


You remember my on-line, interactive sports dictionary, don't you? You

know, the one that's sponsored by Nike and Reebock and the Sports

Authority and Footlocker and ESPN and Sports Illustrated? No federal

funding at all! You know, the one that turns kids on to language and to


You want to be blown away by "Katie, bar the door"? We'll play that

audio clip RIGHT NOW.... :-)