bar sinister


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Wikipedia.

bar sinister

1. obsolete In heraldry, a mark that runs from the left shoulder of the bearer down to the right, often used to denote a noble who is of illegitimate birth. "Sinister" comes from a Latin word meaning "on the left." The young duke, born out of wedlock to the king, wore a bar sinister upon his shield.
2. By extension, the status, stigma, or implication of illegitimate birth. The boy grew up in comfort, but his other brothers never let him forget his bar sinister.
See also: bar

bar sinister

A coat of arms ornamentation that is supposedly a sign of illegitimacy. The phrase, which has appeared in the works of novelists Laurence Sterne and Sir Walter Scott, implies a “bar” that prevents the person from a legitimate claim or inheritance, while “sinister” (the heraldic term for a coat of arms' left side) sounds menacing. Although the idea of a bar sinister on an illegitimate person's shield entered popular speech more than two centuries ago, that's not heraldically correct. A patterned border around a shield was the British heraldry way of indicating bastardy, and if you want to be even more technical, a thin diagonal line that does not touch the edges of the shield is a “baton,” not a “bar.” However, people rarely check with the College of Arms before using words and phrases.
See also: bar