Professional Style

Bated Breath

August 2013
Spot the Error

James walked with baited breath to the coach’s office to learn if he made the varsity team.

Ever stick your nose in a container of fish bait? No? Me neither. But I can imagine that fish bait is kind of stinky (if it’s not, just work with me here). So, in the “varsity” sentence above, James walked to the coach’s office with stinky breath? Maybe … I don’t know. But I doubt that that was the intended meaning.

The correct word for the sentence is bated, which means held or abated. Basically, bated breath means holding your breath. Sometimes when people are nervous—as was James—they hold their breath—as he did.

Bated breath is a fairly common phrase, and whether you say bated breath or baited breath, no one will know the difference. BUT, if you write it down, EVERYONE will know. So remember, bated breath does not smell like stinky fish bait.

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