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The meaning and origin of the expression: Aid and abet

Aid and abet

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Aid and abet'?

To help and encourage, usually in the commission of a crime or anti-social act.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Aid and abet'?

'Aid and abet' is a common enough expression but, whilst 'aid' is well-known, what does 'abet' mean exactly? The word derives from the French 'abeter' - to hound, which itself derives from the Norse 'beita' - to cause to bite.

The phrase 'aid and abet' was coined in the late 18th century, by which time the term 'abet' had lost its original 'cause to bite' meaning. An early example of its use dates from 1798, when George Washington included it in a letter, first published in Writings, 1893. He didn't appear to have any better opinion of the French than that of the US administration concerning the Gallic reluctance to aid and abet the war in Iraq:

"My mind is not a little agitated by the outrageous conduct of France towards the United States, and at the inimitable conduct of its partisans, who aid and abet their measures."

Aid and abet Bear baiting, or as it was first called 'bear abetting', was a popular entertainment in England between the 16th and 19th centuries. It took place in pits in 'bear gardens', in which tethered bears were torn to pieces by trained bulldogs. Such pits were commonplace and some still exist, although they are of course no longer in use.

This 'sport' wasn't viewed with the distaste we now have for animal cruelty - Queen Elizabeth I condoned the practice by attending baitings, one of which resulted in 13 dead bears. The Elizabethan writer Robert Laneham described the scene:

"It was a sport very pleasant to see, to see the bear, with his pink eyes, tearing after his enemies approach... and when he was loose to shake his ears twice or thrice with the blood and the slaver hanging about his physiognomy."

So, if you plan to help someone, aid them by all means, but no biting please.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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