Thursday, March 31, 2005

Is That a Wiggly Worm in your Mouth?

Here's a pet peeve of mine: when people write that they're waiting with baited breath when they really mean bated breath. Michael Quinion at World Wide Words tells us that, although the correct spelling is bated, it seems that baited will eventually be accepted, since it's used so often now. Ack.

When I read "baited," I think of hooks and worms and water and fish.

Bated, the past tense of bate, is actually a contraction of the word abated. Abated itself means, in this context, "To become or cause to become less active or intense" (from Bartleby.com). It comes from Middle English abaten, which is from Old French abattre, to beat down.

Quinion also tells us that the first recorded use of the term "bated breath" is from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice:

"Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness,
Say this ..."


Geoffrey Taylor, in the poem "Cruel Clever Cat," apparently had the same "baited breath" pet peeve that I do:

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


~Website Recommendation~

World Wide Words ("Michael Quinion writes about international English from a British viewpoint") is chock-full of info about words and linguistics. I particularly like Weird Words, which includes blurb, cockamamie, dumbledore (not the one from Hogwarts), and Fred Himebaugh's favorite, synaesthete. Articles are listed here and include "Cyberplague: Help! A Prefix out of Control!" and "Beam Me Up, Scotty! The Linguistic Legacy of Star Trek."

(Hmm .... if I were a synaesthete, would I "sense" a complex fugue as feeling like wiggly worms run amok in my mouth?)

I'm adding this site to my sidebar under "Good Learnin' & Readin'. Enjoy!

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