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Many people seem now to infer a meaning of the breath being metaphorically 'baited' like a trap or a hook, waiting to catch something instead of the original non-metaphorical original meaning, which simply described the breath being cut short, or stopped as with a sharp intake of breath. The expression appears in Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice as bated , which dates its origin as 16th century or earlier.

The word bate is a shortened form of abate, both carrying the same meaning to hold back, reduce, stop, etc , and first appeared in the s, prior to which the past tense forms were baten and abaten. Ack J Vaughan. And if you like more detail ack K Dahm : when soldiers marched to or from a battle or between encampments in a column, there was a van, a main body, and a rear. On the battlefield the forces would open up to a broad front, with scouts forward to locate the other side, the main lines, and one or several reserves to the rear. The cavalry, or mobile force, would be separate and often on the outer edges of the formation.

Each side would line up in a similar fashion, allowing for terrain and personal preference between the width of the line and the depth. When the opposing lines clashed, there would be a zone between them where fighting took place. Since there would be differences in ability and local strength, the lines would often bend and separate. The front lines formed by each force could also be called battle lines. The soldiers behind the front lines wesre expected to step up into the place of the ones ahead when they fell, and to push forward otherwise, such that 15th centruy and earlier battles often became shoving matches, with the front lines trying to wield weapons in a crush of men.

The classic British Army of the Colonial and Napoleanic eras used a line that was three men deep, with the ranks firing and reloading in sequence. Since it took between 40 and 60 seconds to reload, that meant a volley fired every seconds, which proved devestating to the opposing line. This formation and similar ones were used until the American Civil War, and later by other European powers. What ended the practice was the invention of magazine-fed weapons and especially machine guns, which meant that an opposing line could be rapidly killed.

After the Great War, dispersion became the main means of fighing, with much looser units linking side to side to protect each others flanks, which became the WWII paradigm. There are various suggestions for the origins of beak meaning judge or magistrate, which has been recorded as a slang expression since the midth century, but is reasonably reliably said to have been in use in the 16th century in slightly different form, explained below. Francis Grose's Vulgar Tongue dictionary of Buckish Slang and Pickpocket Eloquence includes the entry: Beak - a justice of the peace or magistrate.

In the 19th century the term beak also referred to a sherif's officer English or a policeman, and later beak was adopted as slang also by schoolchildren for a schoolmaster. I am informed on this point thanks K Madley that the word beak is used for a schoolmaster in a public school in Three School Chums by John Finnemore, which was published in In the First World War being up before the beak meant appearing before an elderly officer. Brewer's slang dictionary suggests beak derives from an Anglo-Saxon word beag, which was " Brewer also cites an alternative: " In considering this idea, it is possible of course that this association was particularly natural given the strange tendency of men's noses to grow with age, so that old judges and other elderly male figures of authority would commonly have big noses.

Other theories include suggestions of derivation from a Celtic word meaning judgement, which seems not to have been substantiated by any reputable source, although interestingly and perhaps confusingly the French for beak, bec, is from Gaulish beccus, which might logically be connected with Celtic language, and possibly the Celtic wordstem bacc-, which means hook. Partridge says that the earlier form was beck, from the th centuries, meaning a constable, which developed into beak meaning judge by about , although Grose's entry would date this development perhaps years prior.

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And finally to confuse matters more, Cassells Jonathan Green slang dictionary throws in the obscure nevertheless favoured by Cassells connection with harman-beck, also harman, which were slang terms for constable combining harman meaning hard-man it is suggested, with beck or bec , from the mid 16th century. As with several other slang origins, the story is not of a single clear root, more like two or three contributory meanings which combine and support the end result. Earlier versions of the expression with the same meaning were: 'You got out of bed the wrong way', and 'You got out of bed with the left leg foremost' which perhaps explains why today's version, which trips off the tongue rather more easily, developed.

According to Chambers, Bedlam was first recorded as an alternative name for the hospital in , and as a word meaning chaos or noisy confusion in , evolving naturally from slightly earlier use in referring to a madhouse or lunatic asylum. Thanks S Taylor for help clarifying this.

Bees have long been a metaphorical symbol because they are icons everyone can recognise, just as we have many sayings including similarly appealing icons like cats and dogs. Earlier references to the size of a 'bee's knee' - meaning something very small for example 'as big as a bee's knee' - probably provided a the basis for adaptation into its modern form, which according to the OED happened in the USA, not in UK English.

Neither 'the bees knees', nor 'big as a bees knee' appear in Brewer, which indicates that the expression grew or became popular after this time. Based on Nigel Rees' well researched and reliable dating of for first recorded use, it is likely that earliest actual usage was perhaps a few years before this. It's certainly true that the origin of the word bereave derives from the words rob and robbed.

It's true also that the words reaver and reiver in Middle English described a raider, and the latter specifically a Scottish cross-border cattle raider. However the word bereave derives says Chambers from the Old English word bereafian, which meant robbed or dispossessed in a more general sense. It's a very old word: Reafian meaning rob appears in Beowulf The 'be' prefix is Old English meaning in this context to make or to cause, hence bereafian. The 'be' prefix and word reafian are cognate similar with the Old Frisian North Netherlands word birava, and also with the Old High German word biroubon.

These and other cognates similar words from the same root can be traced back to very ancient Indo-European roots, all originating from a seminal meaning of rob. Incidentally Cassells says the meaning of bereave in association with death first appeared in English only in the s, so the robbed meaning persisted until relatively modern times given the very old origins of the word.

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Thanks J R for raising the question. In fact the expression 'baer-saerk' with 'ae' pronounced as 'a' in the word 'anyhow' , means bear-shirt, which more likely stemmed from the belief that these fierce warriors could transform into animals, especially bears and wolves, or at least carry the spirit of the animal during extreme battle situations. Thanks Cornelia for this more precise derivation. This derivation is also supported by the Old Icelandic word 'Beserkr', meaning 'bear-shirt'.

I am additionally informed thanks F Tims that: " By their account, the 'bar-sark' was worn only by members of the Norse chieftan's personal bodyguard, they being the most ferocious, and thus the most feared, of the Vikings plundering eastern Scotland and the hapless Dane-mark.

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So, according to the book, the term does not apply to all invading Vikings, just the more obnoxious. In the book, also, the Norse word 'bar' or 'baer', as the case may be means 'wolf', from the hide of which the shirt was made, so it would be a 'wolf-shirt' Champions - Professed fighting men were often kept by kings and earls about their court as useful in feud and fray. Harald Fairhair's champions are admirably described in the contemporary Raven Song by Hornclofe - "Wolf-coats they call them that in battle bellow into bloody shields.

They wear wolves' hides when they come into the fight, and clash their weapons together These baer-sarks, or wolf coats of Harald give rise to an Old Norse term, 'baer sark', to describe the frenzy of fight and fury which such champions indulged in, barking and howling, and biting their shield-rims Voltaire wrote in ' If this is best of possible worlds If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?..

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Another famous writer of his time, though less renowned today American James Branch Cable, , might well have contributed to the popular use of the term when he used it in his novel 'The Silver Stallion' in , when he created a frequently repeated ironically amusing expression in its own right: ' The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.. The fact that the quotes feature in the definitive quotations work, Bartletts Familiar Quotations first published and still going bears out the significance of the references.

Related no doubt to this, the s expression 'biblical neckline' was a euphemistic sexual slang term for a low neckline a pun on the 'lo and behold' expression found in the bible. Thanks Ben for suggesting the specific biblical quote. It is both a metaphor based on the size of the bible as a book, and more commonly a description by association to many of the particularly disastrous epic events described in the bible, for example: famines, droughts, plagues of locusts, wars, mass exodus, destruction of cities and races, chariots of fire, burning bushes, feeding of thousands, parting of seas, etc.

The slang 'big cheese' is a fine example of language from a far-away or entirely foreign culture finding its way into modern life and communications, in which the users have very awareness or appreciation of its different cultural origins. This would suggest that some distortion or confusion led to the expression's development.

It's easy to imagine that people confused the earlier meaning with that of the female garment and then given the feminine nature of the garment, attached the derogatory weak 'girly' or 'sissy' meaning.

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I received this helpful information thanks N Swan, April about the expression: " Hence perhaps the northern associations and s feel. A catchphrase can get into the public vernacular very rapidly - in a very similar vein, I've heard people referring to their friends as a 'Nancy Boy Potter', a name taken directly from the schoolmaster sketch in Rowan Atkinson's mids one-man show Kipling reinforced the expression when he wrote in that the secret of power ' It's the liftable stick.

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The term is found also in pottery and ceramic glazing for the same reason. Takes the biscuit seems according to Patridge to be the oldest of the variations of these expressions, which essentially link achievement metaphorically to being awarded a baked confectionery prize. Heaven knows why though, and not even Partridge can suggest any logic for that one. Incidentally, the expression 'takes the biscuit' also appears thanks C Freudenthal more than once in the dialogue of a disreputable character in one of James Joyce's Dubliners stories, published in I am informed additionally thanks J Finnie, Verias Vincit History Group, Oct of a different interpretation, paraphrased thus: Rather than bullets, historic accounts tell of men bitting down on leather straps when undergoing primative medical practice.

Biting on a round metal brass bullet would have been both a potential choking hazard, and extremely hard to do.