Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Baited Breath" Or "Bated Breath"...?


Dizzy Dick asked the question the other day "what exactly is baited breath?"

Not knowing what the answer was, I decided to do a little research and found some interesting facts about this idiom! I always hate NOT knowing the answer to something when folks ask me, ya know?

Sometimes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! You'll see what I mean as we go along, so stay with me!

The correct spelling is "bated breath", not "baited breath" which has become the most common use. Bated is actually a shortened version of the word abated, which means paused or shortened! William Shakespear was the first writer to be known to use the idiom in his writings.

"Moneys is your suit.
What should I say to you? Should I not say,
"Hath a dog money? Is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?" Or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness,
Say this:
"Fair sir, you spat on me on Wednesday last,
You spurned me such a day, another time
You called me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys?"

Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice, act 1, sc. 3, l. 119-29.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616), British dramatist, poet.


Nearly three centuries later, Mark Twain employed it in Tom Sawyer: “Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”.

This actually makes more sense when you stop and wonder just how one would "bait" their breath! This does, in fact, pose an interesting question...and the answer can be found if you look hard enough!

For instance, Geoffrey Taylor humorously (and consciously) captured it in verse in his poem Cruel Clever Cat:

Sally, having swallowed cheese,
Directs down holes the scented breeze,
Enticing thus with baited breath
Nice mice to an untimely death.


It's all in how you look at it, I guess! One of those things that we sometimes wonder about for most of our lives! So there ya go...another one of life's little mysteries solved for ya by the Hermit!

I know what you're thinking! That the Hermit has way too much time on his hands! You're probably right, but exercises like this help to keep me off the streets and out of the pool halls! I wonder if that's a good thing or a bad thing!

After all, I used to learn a LOT of new words at the pool hall! Don't think I should include most of them here, just in case!

Coffee on the patio before it gets too hot this morning. Oh, and bring any extra rain with ya if you have any, OK? We need it!

8 comments:

Dizzy-Dick said...

Thans for enlightening me. Actually, sometimes my breath smells like old "cat fish bait":-).

Either way, you got me hook, line, and sinker.

Momlady said...

Thank you for the info! I like learning something new every day. It, hopefully, keeps the brain working like it should.

HermitJim said...

Hey Dizzy...
I hope you don't mind me using your rhetorical question as a "food for thought" post!

Sometimes something just gets stuck in my mind and I can't let it go!

Anyway, I do appreciate you coming by today!


Hey Momlady...
Always glad to offer up what little bit of mundane information I can dig up! If it entertains a bit, that's all the better!

I appreciate you coming by today!

Mechanic in Illinois said...

I think baited breath is what you get from eating the bait on a fishing boat. Just kidding. Thanks for the info and another great lesson.

HermitJim said...

Hey Mechanic...
As long as you don't eat ll the bait, we'll be OK!

Rather have the fish than the bait, ya know?

Thanks for coming by today!

JoJo said...

Good Morning My Special One
I don't think you have to much time on your hands I am surprised you have any time at all, what with you always teaching us usefull things. Of course going to the pool hall every now and again is a good way to blow off some steam too.
Thanks for the education love.

HermitJim said...

Hey JoJo...
It's always a pleasure to furnish what little bit of knowledge I can gather up. After all, it keeps me out of trouble (supposedly)!

Seems like sometimes I can get in trouble no matter what! Oh well...what can ya do?

Thanks, sweetie, for coming by today!

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Hi Jim, back at last, damn pc problems. Interesting info that; a question I have pondered but never had the temerity to check.

AV