Tuesday, April 2, 2013

GrammatiCats: Bated Breath

"...Jason... Jason, stop..."

"What's wrong, babe?  I thought you liked it."

"I do!  It's just - I don't know how to say it, but - it's your breath, Jason.  It's... well... bated."

Yeah, but in seriousness: what's the deal with 'bated' breath?  Or is it 'baited'? 

Let's find out.

Pinkie Rating: 4

First of all, spoiler alert: it is in fact bated.  But what does it mean to bate?  Do people spend lonely Saturday nights bating? 

In this case, bate is just a shortened form of abate, which (as you might already know) means to lessen, or to reduce.  You will remember that more effectively if you can place it within your pre-existing linguistic universe, so hold on to your hats, folks - it's going to get word-nerdy in here.

The root of abate is Old French 'battre', which comes from the Latin 'battuere', which means 'to beat'.  If that sounds logical to you, it's because your under-brain has seen this same word root lots of times already.  Check it out!

abate - to lessen ("to beat down")
rebate - to deduct or subtract ("to repeatedly beat down")
debate - to dispute or discuss ("to beat down completely")
batter - to beat or strike repeatedly

I know, right?  Is this word-root stuff cool or what?!

Right, so, back to abate.  To lessen or reduce.  Essentially, "abated breath" means you are so tense that you have all but stopped breathing

Which would be great and fine and totally understandable even today, except that back around the 16th century, some self-important poet dropped an A, probably trying to cram the word into his dumb old iambic pentameter like Cinderella's step-sister shoving her fugly foot into that fancy glass Manolo.  Fast forward a few hundred years, and now we've got ourselves a centuries-old idiom that nobody understands.  THANKS A LOT, BALDY.

Anyway, enough words.  Here are the kitties to summarize what we know.

Say it like this:

And if you see anybody implying this--

--please correct them with the gentle delicacy of a summer's breeze.  Remember: it's not their fault Shakespeare was a jerk.

Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!

1.  Toast, courtesy of the one and only Frank
2.  Firefly, courtesy of Jarret O.
2.  Pete, courtesy of my ridicuously cool sister

(Does your kitty want to be a GrammatiCat?  Sign up here!)


  1. The Grammaticats are a lot of fun...I'll be sure to check in on the rest of the alphabet this month!

    1. Thanks for saying so - it's so nice of you to stop by! (I'll be returning the favor just as soon as I can shove the cats off my desk and get caught up on things!)

  2. Oh snap, 4 pinkies!

    I'm just making note to never bother using that word... ever... lol

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

    1. Haha, y'know Jak, that is probably the simplest solution here.

  3. You are funny! Love these posts!

    1. Hey, thanks again for the encouragement and the adorable ammunition - you have the best pics!

  4. You make learning so much fun! If the lessons had been this creative during school years I might have retained more of this... especially if the lessons involved cats!:-)

    1. EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH KITTIES. That's the thesis statement here. And thanks so much for the compliment - this is way more fun than I thought it would be!

  5. I absolutely love your posts. You have a fantastic way with (and knowledge of) words.

    *virtual high five*


    1. Up high! Down low! Thanks for saying so - that made my whole day! (I'll be back over at your place later today - I need my next hit of mind-expanding Oulipo exercises!)