or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We Got The Beat

The Onion's Nathan Rabin has a regular feature called "My Year of Flops", in which he watches and assesses movies generally agreed to have been bad. This week he's talking about the critically and popularly reviled Larry Sanders flick "What Planet Are You From?". Here's the first paragraph:

I’m a big fan of the Larry Sanders Show, but I was little wary of the way the DVD set Not Just The Best Of The Larry Sanders Show was put together and marketed. Doesn’t a show as seminal as Sanders merit being released in full-season sets? If a benevolent deity watches over mankind, then why have all eight seasons of Full House been released on DVD while fans wait with baited breath for the tardy DVD release of Sanders’ second season?

Why did the cat eat cheese and sit by the mousehole? He was waiting with baited breath.

The breath that Larry Sanders fans are waiting for is not "baited" but "bated", which, you probably may have guessed if you didn't know, is an abbreviated form of "abated". To abate is to reduce or eliminate altogether: bated breath is that which is held back in anticipation.

"Wait with baited breath" is a very common mistake: Googling it reveals well over 300,000 hits. But it's still wrong.

"Abate" is from French "battre", "to beat", which in turn is from Latin "battuere", with, obviously, the same meaning. This useful root has given English quite an array of words: a battery of them, you might say, since "battery" is one of those words--originally a severe assault, then a collection of guns (which can beat down the enemy), and finally a grouping of cells which together generate electricity. (The second meaning is also found in the Brazilian word "bateria", a collection of drums used for rat-tat-tatting out samba music.) The loosest sense of "battery", but one which can still be seen to be related to the second sense, is "a collection of like things", as in the relatively common phrase "battery of specialists" or "battery of doctors".

Also from "battuere": "batter", "bat" and "battle", the "debate" in which one battles one's opponent. and, rather bafflingly, "rebate". (The "bat" in question is either the wooden club or the action, as in "to bat one's eyelashes": the animal is from a different source, a similar Scandinavian word.)


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