Wednesday, December 26, 2012

With Bated Breath

Doug from Traverse City asked about the origin of what is now a cliché: with bated breath. Bated is a shortened version of abated, meaning reduced, limited, subdued, stopped. So if you are waiting with bated breath, you are holding your breath in suspense, shock, terror, or some other arresting emotion. By the way, the word is increasingly being spelled incorrectly as baited. Don’t swallow that hook.

Bated tracks back to a Latin word that meant to knock down. If you are knocked down, you are stopped in your tracks, and action is stymied. A few words were built on that root. They include abate, abatement, debate, and rebate.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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