Posted by James Briggs on December 05, 2001
In Reply to: What does this one mean? posted by Marian on December 05, 2001
: : : I'm waiting with batted breath?
: : I believe it's "baited breath." No, I take that back. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage has this in its entry:
: baited, bated--Heritage 1982 and Bryson 1984 point out that
in the phrase "with bated breath," the _bated_ is sometimes misspelled _baited_:
: ...we wait and wait with baited breath--N.Y. Times,15 June 1980
: Bryson has an example from a British newspaper.
: The verb _bate_is related to abate.
: My old Webster's Third New International Dictionary says that the
first meaning of "bate" is to reduce the force or intensity of, or to moderate,
or restrain. The example given is "he _bated_ his breath."
: I take all this to mean that one who is waiting with bated breath is figuratively HOLDING his breath with, I imagine, anticipation.
Breath: If someone has bated breath they are holding their breath with suspense or fear. This use of bated is about the only example left in the English language; abate is much more common. Both words come from the Old French "abatre", to "beat down" or "fell".