I came across an article on Flavorwire written by Allison Herman, an assistant editor. The article has to do with Buffalo Wild Wings dropping Steve Ramazzisi after it came to light that he, shall we way, misremembered his actions on 9-11. But that’s not what this post is about.
Instead it’s about Ms. Herman’s misuse of the phrase “to wait with bated breath.” Ms. Herman used a homonym, Americans watched with baited breath Now as my seventh grade English teacher (or was it my fifth grade teacher — I forget) explained, homonyms are words that sound the same but don’t mean the same thing. Ms. Herman fell into a homonym-baited trap.
“Bate” is the same root as “abate,” which means to halt or suspend temporarily. One who waits with bated breath temporarily stops breathing. He holds his breath in other words. “Bait” means to try to attract something, usually for the purpose of capturing it. We bait fish hooks. I can’t think of anyone waiting with baited breath unless, maybe, it is a cat with a piece of cheese in her mouth waiting for a mouse to wander by.
Yes, this is picky. Yes, I’m somewhat of a grammar freak. I still think correct English matters.