Bated Breath – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you waiting with excited expectations for someone or something? If so, you could say you’re waiting with “bated breath.”

This idiomatic expression defines your nervous excitement, and most people will understand what you mean. This post unpacks everything you need to know about the meaning and origin of this phrase.

Bated Breath Meaning

The meaning of “bated breath” is to wait for something or someone with nervous excitement. You can use the phrase in any scenario where you are anxiously expecting an outcome, and the result could affect your life at work, home, or in social settings. You can use the phrase when referring to people, events, or outcomes.

The use of “bated” in the saying is a shorter form of “abated,” meaning “reduced or stopped.” The word bated refers to the slowing down of breath. If you think back to the last time you watched a thriller/slasher horror movie, you might find that your breathing was shallow as you waited for the killer to strike. In this case, you would be “waiting with bated breath” for the killer to appear.

People often spell the word incorrectly as “baited,” as in baiting a line when you want to go fishing. However, that’s the incorrect spelling, and the phrase refers to waiting in nervous excitement, not baiting a line or hook.

Bated Breath Example Usage

“We all sat there with bated breath, waiting for the band to take the stage.”

“My exam results are due next week, and I’m waiting with bated breath to see if I passed.”

“The boss said she’s coming in in 20-minutes to tell us who gets the managerial promotion. We’re waiting for her with bated breath.”

“Bitcoin is in a bear market, and every bitcoiner is waiting with bated breath for a market reversal.”

“The last episode of Dexter airs tonight; I’m waiting for it with bated breath to find out if he escapes or goes to jail.”

“As the speaker finished her presentation, we were all waiting with bated breath for someone to challenge her view.”

“Are you kids excited for Santa coming to town tonight? You all look like you’re waiting for the reindeer with bated breath.”

Bated Breath Origin

The origin of “bated breath” comes from the Shakespeare play, “The Merchant of Venice,” written in 1605. The character, Shylock, says, “Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key, With bated breath and whispering humbleness.”

The phrase went on to appear in many other publications, writings and plays over the centuries, and it maintains the same meaning in modern language. Contrary to popular belief, the spelling of the word “bated” has nothing to do with the word “baited.” There are plenty of examples in the literature where writers use “baited” and “bated” interchangeably, but it’s incorrect.

Phrases Similar to Bated Breath

  • On tenterhooks.
  • Flabbergasted.
  • Thunderstruck.

Phrases Opposite to Bated Breath

  • Blas√©.
  • Cool as a cucumber.
  • Cool, calm, and collected.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Bated breath.

Ways People May Say Bated Breath Incorrectly

The phrase “bated breath” has nothing to do with fishing or bait. Some people may use the term assuming that they are baiting other people into a conversation. The older version of “baited breath” no longer applies and is the incorrect version of the expression.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Bated Breath

You can use “bated breath” when you’re trying to convey your sense of anticipation at an upcoming event or outcome or when meeting someone. The phrase suits social and professional use, and you’ll hear people use it all the time when they are anxiously and excitedly waiting for something.

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