Our fathers would be the last generation to cycle through the pole-marked doors, and that would be that.

This is taken from a passage about barbershops. The doors the writer is talking about the doors of the barbershops, but what does "pole-marked" mean?

  • 10
    "Pole-marked" just means "marked with a pole". Old-fashioned barber shops used to have a red-and-white-striped barber pole outside them. Modern barber shops usually do not. Sep 19 '16 at 13:10
  • 3
    Note that the compound adjective (-or-is-it?) 'pole-marked' is a nonce coinage; it would be inadvisable to use it other than in an informal and perhaps tongue-in-cheek context. There are no other examples of its use that I can find on the internet (though quite a few false positives turn up on a "pole-marked" Google search). Sep 19 '16 at 13:49
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    It blows my mind how everyone seems to think that all writing is googleable. Thank goodness, it isn't or life would be dull indeed. One can just make them up as one writes along....worn-down interpreter of sentences....:)
    – Lambie
    Sep 19 '16 at 16:15
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    @EdwinAshworth It's a normal productive adjectival phrase construction, with no need to be a pre-established set phrase. “Pole-marked” didn't need to be / wasn't invented or coined any more than “pock-marked” was; it was just written to mean its pedestrian meaning in that combination. Ditto “black-striped”, “fresh-painted”, “blue-eyed”, “cloth-covered”, … Sep 20 '16 at 0:02
  • I'm just kind of tripping that this is considered "old fashioned" now. Really? Am I that old? :-o
    – John Smith
    Sep 20 '16 at 1:56

When I was a lad, barber shops always had one of these outside.

enter image description here

Older versions were a simple pole painted in red and white stripes.

The attached also gives you the, slightly gruesome, history of the barber's pole - which date from when barbers were surgeons and blood-letters as well as hairdressers and shavers.

I'm not sure what "cycle through" refers to. In Britain we certainly never cycled into a barbers shop. Perhaps in America they had sort of drive-through barbers!

  • 7
    "Cycle through" in this context means to visit regularly and systematically, in the same sense that we might talk about a "liturgical cycle". It's not clear from the quotation what generation is being referred to, but for a generation of men who were regularly shaved by a barber, "cycle through" the barber shop is particularly appropriate. In any case, it has nothing to do with bikes at all.
    – user193445
    Sep 19 '16 at 15:03
  • @PresterJohn I'm not familiar with "cycle through" used in this sense - it's not an idiom we would use in the UK. And come to think of it, I've never heard it used by an American either!
    – WS2
    Sep 19 '16 at 16:40
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    @WS2 It is less an idiom than a very literal meaning. Think of a first-in, first-out queue as you would find in many stores or shops. That is literally what is in view here - someone enters, waits until their turn arrives, receives service, and leaves. Meanwhile, others have queued up behind them, and so on. Sep 19 '16 at 19:17
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    Going in and out of a door is cycling. Just once, with no one else around. Go in, go out. You've cycled.
    – DCShannon
    Sep 19 '16 at 20:56
  • @WS2 your comment intrigued me enough to send me out looking for examples of "cycling through". I was surprised to find as few as I did. Most of the ones I did find were either about "cycling through" a list of options (or tabs) on the computer or else describing water and minerals cycling through plants and animals. I think I rather misled myself, and you, by including the "through" within quotation marks. Both GalacticCowboy and DCShannon read the passage better than I by noting that "through" attaches as an ordinary preposition to "the pole-marked doors", not to the verb, "cycle".
    – user193445
    Sep 22 '16 at 0:43

A pole-marked door refers to an old-fashioned barber shop's sign. See one here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barber%27s_pole

Usually, the "poles" (AKA signs) were hung outside the shop. Marked here means: a sign was hung to the side the door indicating it was a barbershop.

Marked just means indicating. It is not so clearly expressed because the signs were usually separate from the door or hung off a column that was part of an actual building. Near the door. But not really "marking" the door.

They are red and white and blue. Their is not a consensus of the colors: the US flag or two types of blood (venous and arterial) and a bandage.

Here is a picture of one that is actually more of a "pole": http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMGG75_3_Aces_Barber_Shop_New_York_NY

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