'Baited breath' and other commonly confused expressions


We modern English speakers don’t use “bate” as a verb. So it’s logical to assume the term is “baited breath.” But in fact, “bated” derives from the verb “abated,” and “bated breath” gets credited to Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”: “Or shall I bend low and in a bondsman’s key, with bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, say this …” So to wait with bated breath means you’re holding your breath, literally or figuratively, in anticipation. “Baited breath” is, as Garner’s Modern American Usage puts it, “a bungle.”

Everyone has their own misheard expressions, like "toe-headed" instead of the proper "towheaded" and "baited breath" instead of the correct "bated breath."

Spit and image/spitting image. Whet your appetite. All intents and purposes. Bald-faced lie. Here's a closer look in my recent column.

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