Friday, October 10, 2008

Use Your Allusion: "With Bated Breath"

Several months ago, Matt suggested that I explain the phrase "with bated breath" in one of my allusion posts. My apologies to Matt for not noticing his request sooner (I do take requests).

This is probably less of an allusion, and more of an expression. But my goal for this series of posts is to help us all expand our minds a bit, and for this purpose, it will work.

According to this guy, "With bated breath" was first used by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice when Shylock says to Antonio,
“Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key, / With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, / Say this ...”.
Unfortunately, this phrase is commonly misspelled as "with baited breath." This is likely because of our cessation of using the word "bated." Bated, which is a form of "abated" after it has undergone aphesis, means "reduced, lessened, or lowered in force."

To say you wait with "bated breath" means you almost stop breathing because of a strong emotion, such as shock, fear, or awe.

Geoffrey Taylor has cleverly seized the common misspelling of this phrase and written a humorous poem called The Cruel Clever Cat.

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


  1. Ah, the clever double entendre. Bated breath being misspelled so often, I fear its cleverness may have been lost to many.

    I really enjoy these articles. Keep it up.

  2. Thanks! The allusion posts do not generally generate a lot of comments, but when I don't do them, people have let me know that they've missed their absence. Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you enjoy reading them. I have a good time trying to hunt for new ones and also finding ways to tie them into relevant subjects.

  3. That's awesome. "With bated breath" probably means something entirely different than "With baited breath." That reminds me of Dumb & Dumber where they talk about having "A Rapist's wit."