Posted tagged ‘English’

Just a bit of mild snark to start off what augers to be a depressing week: According to NPR, physicists go fishing ediThtion.

December 14, 2009

I always get into trouble with these, but I’m an editor’s son, so I can’t help myself.

From this piece at on the long-looked-for restart of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern:

“Everybody’s so jazzed that the machine’s actually working,” says Zach Marshall, a graduate student on a detector called Atlas. “But we’re all just waiting with baited breath, because it’s been so close so many times,” he says.

Now I  know that English usage changes and that we move with the times/practice and all that, but breath is baited only in certain, unpleasant-to-visualize circumstances.

The proper spelling of this word/phrase is bated breath, which, as this brief etymology by Michael Quinion describes, has a very distinguished pedigree.  First found in written English in the mouth of Shylock, speaking to Antonio in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it has persisted as a sport of the still-common verb, to abate.

The misspelling NPR commits is becoming increasingly standard, however, and as Quinion suggests, that way lies linguistic change, however much curmudgeons like my mother’s son may protest.

But c’mon:  I have this vision of poor, ill-transcribed Mr. Marshall, standing before his NPR interviewer, night crawlers dangling from his mouth, trout gaping at the proffered meal.

(And on that theme, enjoy this bit of doggerel taken from “Clever Cruel Cat” by Geoffrey Taylor, and brought to light (to me) by Quinion:

Sally, having swallowed cheese,

Directs down holes the scented breeze,

Enticing thus with baited breath

Nice mice to an untimely death.

Image:  Carel de Moor, “Angler,” c. 1700.