Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Words on Wednesday: Beads! Bees? Beads! Bees?

So it's B week here at AB3, and here we go. This week's tricky words:

abate means to lessen, moderate, or restrain. In contemporary usage, though, you rarely see/hear it. Usually "bate" is used instead. In my own reading, the main way I've seen "abate" is in its negative form--unabated. Their enthusiasm continued unabated (they were still enthusiastic).

bate is a shortened form of abate, and has the same meaning. So, when you're worried about something, you wait with bated breath to see what happens--i.e., you're barely breathing, practically holding your breath (not baited breath. seriously.). Although various sites I checked also list "bated enthusiasm" and "bated hopes," I think "bated breath" is by far the most common use of this word.

(just in case you're interested, the earliest use recorded in the OED is in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice when it is used with breath: "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'?")

bait is what you use to lure someone or something in. You bait your fishhook with worms or cheese or marshmallows (if you're eight). You bait a mousetrap with cheese or peanut butter. In suspense novels, sometimes a person will be used as bait to lure in a murderer.

bear when used as a noun is an animal, usually brown and furry (teddy bear, brown bear, grizzly bear), sometimes not (polar bear, panda bear). We've got this one, right? Fun fact: in the Western States, a "black bear" is usually brown. Bear is also sometimes used metaphorically to describe something that is difficult: That physics test was a bear.

bear as a verb means to endure (bear the pain), support or hold up (bearing weight), or bring/carry (we come bearing gifts). He returned from the kitchen bearing a tray of snacks. How is he bearing up under the strain? I can't bear the sight of my children in pain. We can't move that wall because it is weight-bearing.

bare, on the other hand, means uncovered, without adornment, or minimal. She only brought the bare necessities. That is the bare truth. As a verb, it means the act of uncovering: She bared her soul to her teammates. He bared his chest so they could see his scar. 

So there you go. When I was in high school, I had a college-aged friend who was also a word addict. We decided that the b-z words were our favorites: bizarre (strange or weird), byzantine (complicated, convoluted), abysmal (really, really bad), berzerk (crazy violent), bazooka (a rocket launcher, but also the best bubble gum). We really needed something to do. :-)

Have a beautiful, bodacious, breathtaking, brilliant day.

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