Baited [sic] breath

I’m always annoyed by references to “baited breath” (*), so when I that saw Michael Quinion wrote about it, I took a look. He quotes this amusing and intentional use of “baited breath” by Geoffrey Taylor:

Sally, having swallowed cheese,
Directs down holes the scented breeze,
Enticing thus with baited breath
Nice mice to an untimely death.

Cruel Clever Cat

(*) Do you think it’s wrong for me to be annoyed?

11/29/07 update: I just found out that the term eggcorn has been used to describe substitutions like “baited breath” since 2003. The term was “coined” (in quotes because “eggcorn” is actually an example of the phenomenon) by one of the guys at Language Log, a blog which I recently added to my list of Language/words sites on my sidebar.  Here’s The Eggcorn Database!


Words and language

I’ve always loved learning new words. I also enjoy dabbling in linguistics. So I’ve decided to add a new category of “Good reading”-type links to resources related to words, languages, linguistics, and the like.

Here are a couple of recent discoveries I’ve made:

Literal-Minded – a great blog about linguistics.

alphaDictionary – a huge site with links to dictionaries for roughly 300 languages, Dr. Goodword’s (formerly Dr. Language at blog, articles on grammar/linguistics/words, specialty dictionaries (like the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, which defaults to “clean” definitions), and, just for Danny: The Advanced Southern Accent Test — and more!

This post is brought to you by the letter ‘S’

This is from The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem. I’ll get around to nominating something by Lem for the NOBC one of these days. Note that this was originally written in Polish and translated by Michael Kandel into English – I have yet to find out anything about the original Polish version of this poem and how much work Kandel put into translating it so exquisitely.

“Have it compose a poem–a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism and in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!”
“And why not throw in a full exposition of the general theory of nonlinear automata while you’re at it?” growled Trurl. “You can’t give it such idiotic–”
But he didn’t finish. A melodious voice filled the hall with the following:

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed.
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.


I finally looked up crepuscular last night. I seem to remember first encountering this word in the name of a radio program I used to listen to when I was in college – probably a jazz program on KCPR or KCBX – that I think was called “Morning Becomes Crepuscular”… But I could easily be imagining that. [9/13/07: I realized last night as I was falling asleep that I was thinking of “Morning Becomes Eclectic”, a syndicated radio show from KCRW. So I still don’t know where I first encountered crepuscular…]

At any rate, when I was looking up some related words (encountered when Jenann and I watched “Caves” from the planet earth series – which looks very cool on our spiffy new LCD TV), I came across crepuscular again, and I finally looked it up.

I initially found this page on Wikipedia, which describes the zoological use of the term. This was interesting enough, since I didn’t know before that there were animals which fell in between the categorizations of diurnal and nocturnal. Furthermore, there are 2 types of crepuscular animals, those who are active at dawn, and those who are active at dusk (see the Wikipedia page for more details).

But just a few minutes ago, I noticed the link at the top of the zoological entry to the page on the atmospheric optical effect, crepuscular rays. I had no idea that there was a name for this effect, something that I’m sure has been enjoyed by every sighted person who has ever walked the earth. I also didn’t know that they are also known as “God’s rays” – though I can see why they are called that.

Have fun with crepuscular!