Friday, October 03, 2014
Margaret from Traverse City came across the phrase with bated breath and wondered what it meant and where it came from. It is considered a cliché.
The first thing to observe is that the spelling is b-a-t-e-d, not b-a-i-t-e-d. A person with baited breath would have been eating worms or minnows.
Bated in this sense amounts to “held breath.” So if you are waiting with bated breath, you are holding your breath in suspense, shock, terror, or some other arresting emotion. It goes back to Old French and Anglo-Norman words that meant to reduce, decrease, or beat back. In turn, those words came from a Latin term that meant to knock down.
Abate, abatement, debate, and rebate are allied words.
Bait originally meant food placed on a hook or in a trap to entice and capture prey. It came from an Old Norse word that meant pasture or food.
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