Posted by James Briggs on May 23, 2000
In Reply to: Origins of "Waiting with baited breath'. posted by Bruce Kahl on May 23, 2000
: The phrase means anxiously or with great anticipation.
: I don't remember and can't find my source on this but I think that "Bated" is a shortened version of "abated", which means "to slow down". In the case of "bated breath" this would mean to slow down your breathing or hold your breath.
: Curiously, people hold their breath when in anticipation. Perhaps so as not to be distracted by breathing.
: "Bated" is no longer commonly used, causing people to believe the expression to be "with baited breath". This common misspelling leads to confusion and strange imagery.
: Maybe some other contributors can verify all of this.
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".