Wednesday, December 03, 2008

World Wide Words: Bated breath

I got confused momentarily about whether I should use "bated breath" (my first instince) or "baited breath", so I Googled and found this. Yes, it's "bated breath", from "abated"
The correct spelling is actually bated breath but it’s so common these days to see it written as baited breath that there’s every chance that it will soon become the usual form, to the disgust of conservative speakers and the confusion of dictionary writers.


For those who know the older spelling or who stop to consider the matter, baited breath evokes an incongruous image; 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.

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