Bated Breath or Baited Breath – Meaning and Origin

Many writers, including JK Rowling and her publishers, get confused between bated breath and baited breath. The correct spelling is bated breath, meaning in a nervous or excited state.

Keep reading for an in-depth explanation of bated breath vs. baited breath. Once you know the correct spelling and origin of the idiom, you’ll be able to use the phrase with confidence in your writing pieces.

Is it Bated Breath or Baited Breath?

The correct form of the English expression is bated breath. The dictionary defines this idiom as a nervous or excited state anticipating what will happen.

The expression under discussion has become controversial because of its misuse in Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote in the Prisoner of Azkaban: “The whole common room listened with baited breath.”

Both bated and baited are correct spellings with different meanings.

The noun bait means an item used to lure animals into traps. The typical bait is a worm attached to a hook in fishing. So baited breath has no sense unless it’s a funny explanation for fishy breath.

It can also be in the form of cheese, which one attaches to a mouse trap ready to catch mice.

Bait is also a verb that means load with bait. For instance, bear baiting is an activity that has been prohibited since the 1800s.

Meanwhile, bate is an adjective that means excited or anxious. If you’re excited about something, it means you cannot bate your enthusiasm.

Bait and bait are homophones or words with the same sounds. It’s common for English writers to have a poor choice of spelling when it comes to these words. That’s why there’s a widespread case of the use of the oft-substituted “baited breath.”

Another reason for the common misspelling is the association of bait with a trap. Check your writing for spelling errors before publishing, submitting, or sending them.

This Ngram shows the more common use of bated breath than baited breath.

Bated breath vs baited breath ngram

What is the Meaning of Bated Breath?

The Farlex Dictionary of Idioms defines the phrase bated breath as breathing shallowly in anticipation of something. Meanwhile, McGraw-Hill Dictionary defines it as while holding one’s breath.

Idioms are words or phrases that take on a figurative meaning rather than a literal one.

One can experience a bated breath in excitement when something is about to happen. It’s even possible for a person to have bated breath in fear.

Examples:

  • I was waiting with bated breath in anticipation of the release of the test results.

What is the Meaning of the Word Bated?

The word bated from the idiom bated breath is an adjective that means excited and anxious.

Example:

  • I bated my breath and waited.

Bated Breath Synonyms

  • Agog.
  • Eager.
  • Excited.
  • Enthusiastic.
  • Flabbergasted.
  • Open-mouthed.
  • Thunderstruck.

With Bated Breath Origin

The phrase’s origins can be traced to Shakespeare’s work entitled Merchant of Venice in 1605. The correct form bate was used in bated breath, saying:

Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,

With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;

‘Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;

You spurn’d me such a day; another time

You call’d me dog; and for these courtesies

I’ll lend you thus much moneys?

Before Shakespeare’s use of these kinds of phrases, bate had two meanings. First, it used to be a verb in falconry. Second, it was the threat of a sharp rapier.

How Do You Use Bated Breath in a Sentence?

Investors await with bated breath pivotal US inflation data. [Business Inquirer]

By all accounts, Lance’s first outing as the 49ers’ QB1 went well. Not only was he able to make plays, but he also was able to instill confidence in a fanbase that had been waiting with bated breath to see what he could do as he completed four of five passes for 92 yards and one touchdown pass. [NBC Sports]

Footy Fans Wait With Bated Breath As Kaba & Kamaso Lock Horns On August 27th [The Voice]

Now it feels like the whole economy waits for the CPI with bated breath. The next release will come out Wednesday morning, when the federal government will give us an idea of how much prices changed in the year that terminated last month. [Marketplace]

Bated Breath Summary

The correct spelling of the idiom that means in a nervous or excited state is bated breath, not baited breath. Use this expression in your writing so you can consider yourself better than JK Rowling at one point!