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What is the difference between abate and bate? How are they used differently? Do they both mean the same thing?

(from the Free Dictionary)

The definition of abate is 'to reduce in amount, degree, or intensity; lessen'

The definition of bate is 'to lessen the force or intensity of; moderate'

Isn't that the same thing?

I know that bate is used in the phrase 'with bated breath'. Is it only commonly used in this phrase and rarely used elsewhere?

What's the difference?

5

abate is related to bate etymologically.

Bate

Origin

late Middle English: from Old French batre 'to beat' (see also batter1).

Abate

Origin

Middle English (in the legal sense): from Old French abatre 'to fell', from a- (from Latin ad 'to, at') + batre 'to beat' (from Latin battere, battuere 'to beat').

The word picture for bate is a hawk beating its wings against the air to fly. This word picture extends metaphorically to its noun definition: "foul mood".

Bate

VERB

Falconry (Of a hawk) beat the wings in agitation and flutter off the perch:

the hawks bated and immediately the breeze got in their feathers

NOUN

British informal (dated) An angry mood:

he got into a stinking bate

"Bate" obtains the meaning of "reducing the intensity of a force" as Shakespeare used it in Merchant of Venice. In each of the uses below, bate can reflect the meaning "subdue", although in some of them it could also reflect the original word picture of "beat" or "flutter".

"With bated breath and whispering humbleness,"

"His tedious measures with the unbated fire"

"These griefs and losses have so bated me,"

"And bid the main flood bate his usual height;"

By adding the prefix "a" (a phonetic variant of "ad") to the base of bate we get the picture of beating "at" something or someone.

Abate

VERB

Make (something) less intense:

nothing abated his crusading zeal

Again, abate obtains the meaning of "reducing the intensity of a harmful force" from the outcome of beating that harmful force back. In fact, "subdue" is the primary connotation of abate.

This is the clear meaning in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, when BASSANIO says,

"You would abate the strength of your displeasure."

So in the end, the common etymology creates common meaning across the board, although bate is rarely used now, except for the phrase "bated breath."

  • 3
    I find this answer confusing and inadequate. You have supplied the meaning (word for word from Oxford Dictionaries) for bate; and the etymology (per the same dictionary) for abate, with no discussion as to how the two are connected. Whilst it is true that the etymology of both words is given by the dictionary as the same, it puzzles me what the connection is between lessening (abate), and the fluttering of a hawk's wings. Personally I have never used the word bate and know nothing much about it. Abate is an everyday term. – WS2 Dec 20 '14 at 23:53
  • Thanks for pointing that out. This is a work in progress. – ScotM Dec 21 '14 at 0:00
  • On its face, the batre 'to beat' in both OED Origin lines is sufficient documentation of the claim above it. "Abate is related to bate etymologically." – ScotM Dec 21 '14 at 0:13
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    OK I accept that they are related etymologically - because the dictionary says so. But I am still mystified as to how they are connected as regards meaning. – WS2 Dec 21 '14 at 0:18
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Scot M gave an exhaustive answer. Here is the simple version: You are correct, they mean basically the same. However, you also guessed correctly that "bate" is nowadays (at least in America) used almost exclusively in "with bated breath", which means "in intense anticipation" figuratively or literally so excited as to refrain even from breathing. As "bate" is so rare, Americans sometimes misspell this idiom as "with baited breath", an amusing eggcorn (what is it baited with—chocolate? To catch what or whom?)

  • Obviously, to bait your breath you eat minnows. – Hot Licks Mar 29 '16 at 19:57

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