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With Bated Breath

Posted 2007-02-27 Tags: None

I used the term "baited breath" yesterday, which brings to mind a poem:

Sally, having swallowed cheese, Directs down holes the scented breeze, Enticing thus with baited breath Nice mice to an untimely death.

Baited breath is a silly idea - what does one bait one's breath with? (Evidently cheese if one is a mousehunter). Why do we say this?

Well, to start with, the word is all wrong. It should have been "bated breath" instead of "baited breath", which is the sort of misuse that tends to wildly annoy me. The term "bated" is from the french word "batre" which itself is from the latin "battêre"1. Bated is similar to a word you've almost definitely heard - "abate" - and this is almost certainly enough information for almost anyone who comes across this post.

This does bring to light another topic that I will likely cover, and that's the use and misuse of language. I'm no Chomsky, but I certainly have ideas about language and thought and the entanglement between the two, and I'm certain that you've noticed a plethora of words that are often given the descriptor "five dollar." Etymology is a personal favourite topic - I love knowing where words come from - and the evolution of language is intensely interesting to me. Hence, a new category: Lingua Franca, which is about the differences in the common language we speak.

1 - Apologies for the circumflex instead of the breve - it's the best I can do with html codes.