Word Confusion: Bait versus Bate

Posted March 10, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 16 August 2017

This is the start of the Word Confusions. I’ll post a set of words every once in awhile that authors tend to confuse for the other as part of my Author Tools idea. We’ll see where it goes…

It is such a gross word picture every time I read that someone is “waiting with baited breath”. Yuck!!! I mean, I love sushi. I adore sushi. But I just don’t think of “sushi” and “bait” as being in the same food group.

Bait is a worm or a bug ya stick on a hook when ya go fishin’. Well, okay, one of my nieces had this thing for a while that she’d gross out her sibs by eating worms, but…I really don’t think that’s the imagery the author(s) had in mind.

I certainly can’t imagine kissing somebody with worm breath… See the caution below.

Bate is more of an emotional reaction: anger, fear, a need to escape, or sadness. A rare one is its use as a solution in tanning hides. No, leather, not butts!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

If you found this post on “Bait versus Bate” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.

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Bait Bate
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Free Dictionary.com: bate

A worm wriggling on grass

“Regenwurn1” by Michael Linnenbach is under the GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 licenses, via Wikimedia Commons

A female Harris' hawk about to take flight from a man's fist

“Parabuteo Unicinctus Takeoff” by Flickr user Dave-F (David Friel) is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

A six-year-old female Harris’ hawk bating.

Part of Grammar:
Noun; Verb, transitive

Past tense or past participle: baited
Gerund or Present participle: baiting

Variant spelling of bate 2

CAUTION: Even though bate is a variant spelling for bait, you still cannot use baited breath. It should always be bated breath.

Noun, singular 1; Noun 2

Verb, intransitive 2 & transitive 3

Past tense or past participle: bated
Gerund or Present participle: bating

Variant spelling of bait

Food used to entice fish or animals as prey

An allurement, a thing intended to tempt or entice

Verb, transitive:
Prepare a hook, trap, net, or fishing area with bait to entice fish or animals as prey

Deliberately annoy or taunt someone

[British; informal, dated] An angry mood 1

[Tanning] The solution used 2

Verb, intransitive:
[Falconry; of a hawk] Beat the wings in an attempt to escape 3

To flap the wings wildly or frantically

To jump violently from a perch or the falconer’s fist, often hanging from the leash while struggling to escape

Verb, transitive:
Lessen the force or intensity of 3


To take away


[Tanning] To soak skin or hides in a special solution to soften them and remove chemicals used in previous treatments 2

Get the bait on the hook and we can get to fishin’.

She took the bait.

She rose to the bait.

When it comes to flagging brands, companies are being forced to fish or cut bait.

Daddy used to dig for worms in the garden for bait.

Verb, transitive:
Bait the hook.

I love that commercial where the kid on his skateboard baits his dog with a marshmallow on a stick.

The other boys reveled in baiting him about his love of literature.

She baited her trap with a short, tight skirt and a cleavage-enhancing knit top.

He got into a stinking bate.

We’ll need a new batch of bate with all the hides that came in yesterday.

Verb, intransitive:
The hawks bated when the breeze got in their feathers.

He waited with bated breath.

Verb, transitive:
“To his dying day he bated his breath a little when he told the story.” – George Eliot

You see to bating them hides, boy.

Noun: baiter Imperative: bate
History of the Word:
Middle English meaning to stop on a journey to take food or a rest. It’s from the Old Norse beit meaning pasture, food or beita meaning to hunt or chase. 1 Mid 19th century from the verb bait meaning torment, expressing the notion of a state of a baited person.

2 Old English bǣtan; also see the history for bait

3 Late-Middle English from the Old French batre meaning to beat.

4 Middle English baten, which is short for abaten.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits

You’re Not Really Going To Eat That, Are You?” is courtesy of Rupert Malone at Let Me Speak on This.blogspot.com; Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild Dines on Worms is courtesy of Young American Wisdom.com; “Two Dozen Bowls of Noodles Later, This Man is Still Hungry” is courtesy of NDTV; and I couldn’t find my sources for the other two.