'Baited' BreathPosted by June on June 29, 2015
LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, WORD USAGE
A recent Google search for the term “baited breath” turned up 431,000 hits, including this headline at CNBC. Fascinating. This means one of two things: Either the people who wrote this term didn’t know how to spell it or a whole bunch of people have been eating night crawlers.
OK, that may be a wee bit unfair. Perhaps we shouldn’t be harsh on people for not knowing a word that, outside of one rare expression, hardly even exists: “bated” (unless you live in the world depicted in the movie “Idiocracy,” in which case we’ve moved on to a whole different subject).
But if you note the similarity to the word “abate,” meaning to put an end to something, you’re off on the right foot.
To say that you waited with bated breath means that the anticipation was so intense that you stopped breathing. Stopped, like in abated. That’s the root of the term.
The fact that this expression is so often paired with the verb “wait” -- he waited with bated -- makes it even easier to get it wrong by just repeating the vowel pattern to get "baited." Do a Google search for “sneak peak” and you’ll see what I mean.
So just remember, bated breath is stopped breath because you’ve abated it. That’s why, with “baited breath,” something always smells fishy.
June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more
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