Bail vs. bale

Bale is the word for (1) tightly bound clumps of hay, cotton, or other materials, and (2) the making of such bundles. Bail is the correct word (1) in relation to sums of money given in exchange for prison release, (2) for the act of using containers to remove water from a boat, and (3) for the crossbars at the top of a wicket in the game of cricket.

Bale has a second sense that is much rarer and mostly archaic—namely, evil. And bail has several senses springing from the main ones (as well as many other obscure definitions that we won’t list here). For instance, we often talk about bailing people out of bad situations—i.e., helping remove them from trouble—even when the situations have nothing to do with prison or money. And the phrasal verb bail out has a second figurative sense—to abandon something. This comes from the literal sense, to abandon an aircraft, especially by parachuting.

One more for fans of quirky words: Bale is also the word for a group of turtles.

Examples

However, on Thursday, the USDA reported that China bought 265,600 bales of upland cotton from the U.S. in the week ended Sept. 6. [Wall Street Journal]

He objects to a system in which the US Federal Reserve allows asset bubbles to inflate and in which the US government bails out failing banks and businesses. [BBC]

Baled hay should be stored in secure locations and out of sight, if possible. [Denver Post]

A rise in absenteeism and disinterest in work are two major indicators a staff member may be thinking of bailing. [The Age]

One night, as Dasianna was lying on the beach lamenting over his misfortunes, he saw a bale of turtles crawling through the sands of Maravanthe Beach. [DNA India]

It has evolved into a center with 1,200 beds that mostly houses people waiting to make bail or face trial. [New York Times]

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