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At Bay

Posted by James Briggs on February 15, 2003

In Reply to: At Bay posted by TheFallen on February 15, 2003

: : Does any one know the origin and definition of the phrase "at bay"? Thanks in advance for any help.

: Among several other meanings, the word "bay" is also used to describe a deep barking of dogs, and especially hounds. "At bay" means prevented from advancing or escaping, or kept at distance. It's an old term from the world of hunting - when a dangerous quarry, like a wild boar for example, was finally cornered by a pack of hounds, it would be surrounded and the hounds would all start barking excitedly and aggressively, keeping the unfortunate animal at bay. I'd bet that similar canine behaviour is shown today whenever a fox is forced to go to earth, or a raccoon is treed.

Bay: To keep danger at bay. In ancient times the bay tree was regarded as having great protective powers. This was due to the fact that it never seemed to be struck by lightning. Both Greeks and Romans wore its leaves as protection during thunder storms in an effort to keep the lightning "at bay". During the great plague of London many citizens did the same, in the hope that they would be spared the disease, but it didn't help.