keep sb at "bay"?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by paddycarol, Sep 26, 2006.

  1. paddycarol Senior Member

    Chinese, China
    I know the phrase "keep ... at bay"means to prevent (an enemy, pursuers etc.) from coming near, but what does "bay" here mean?:confused:
     
  2. Hockey13

    Hockey13 Senior Member

    Irvine, California
    AmEnglish/German
    My best guess is that it could come from naval battles. To keep an enemy at (or in the) bay might have meant to prevent an invasion force from making landfall. This is just a guess..."to keep at bay" means precisely as you say. It's just a compound verb.
     
  3. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    No, it comes from hunting. The 'baying' is the barking of dogs. It is the trapped animal who keeps the dogs at bay--- with its antlers or whatever--- meaning it keeps them at a distance, barking but not biting.
     
  4. paddycarol Senior Member

    Chinese, China
    My opinion coincides with yours.
     
  5. la reine victoria Senior Member



    I've had a search on the web and found that this phrase supposedly arose from fox hunting with hounds. A vixen with cubs to protect would deliberately leave them and run off, leaving a scent for the hounds to follow.

    She would "bay" (or bark) at her cubs to reassure them they would be safe and that (hopefully) she would be back. :) So she was keeping the hounds "at bay".




    LRV
     
  6. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English

    Not sure where you read that but it's definitely wrong. The phrase 'at bay' comes from the French aux abois which refers to the barking of dogs, no other animal.

    The OED glosses it thus:

    Most commonly, and often figuratively, in hunting phrases relating to the position of a hunted animal when, unable to flee farther, it turns, faces the hounds, and defends itself at close quarters.
     
  7. la reine victoria Senior Member

    I found it here. (But I did say "supposedly means".) ;)






    LRV
     

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