For Want Of A Letter … Bated, Baited

By Sharon

The expression with bated breath is recorded as appearing for the first time in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice towards the end of the 16th century. It refers to having subdued or restrained breathing because of some strong emotion.

The verb to bate, which means reduce the intensity of; take away; or lower in estimation or amount (an archaic usage), has long since disappeared from common use.

So it’s no surprise that it’s often misspelled as baited. According to Merriam Webster, bait means to persecute, harass or lure.

Here’s an example to illustrate the two meanings: She waited with bated breath to see if he would take the bait.

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6 Responses to “For Want Of A Letter … Bated, Baited”

  • Heidi Swift

    Yes!
    This one drives me absolutely up the wall.
    Thank you thank you, Daily Writing Tips, for defending the free world from “baited breath”!

  • David

    Actually, “bate” is just a short form of “abate” (not an archaic usage), which any good dictionary would tell you.

  • Sharon

    Glad to be of help, Heidi.

    David, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology, ‘bate’ is a shortened form of ‘abate’. ‘Bate’ was used as a verb in its own right from the 14th century. ‘Archaic usage’ referred only to the meaning ‘to lower in estimation or amount’ – hope that clears up any confusion.

  • Chris

    Guilty. I’ve used baited where I shouldn’t have. Thanks for the tip!

  • rick kennerly

    “I’m waiting with a worm on my tongue”–Mork
    “huh, what does that mean?”–Mindy
    “I’m waiting with bated breath”–Mork

  • Sharon

    You’re welcome, Chris. 🙂

    I remember watching Mork and Mindy, Chris, but I don’t remember that expression!

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