I'm going to have a few posts this month from Stephen King's The Gunslinger, which I was reading in October. In a scene where the title character, as a young boy, has just defeated his master in combat, marking his coming of age. He has done so at an age younger than anyone ever has, his friends are watching the aftermath in shock:
They still watched him, caught in a bated moment that none of them could immediately break. They still looked for a corona of fire, or a magical change of features.
The OED defines bated as "Lowered or lessened in position, amount, force, estimation, etc.; especially in bated breath: breathing subdued or restrained under the influence of awe, terror, or other emotion." It comes from the verb bate, which has a slew of definitions in the OED. The fifth definition on the second entry for bate is the one relevant here:
- 5a. transitive. To lessen in force or intensity; to mitigate, moderate, assuage, diminish. Now chiefly in the phrase "to bate one's breath": to restrain one's breathing, and make it soft and gentle.
- 5b. intransitive. To fall off in force or intensity.
That meaning of bate goes back as far as 1300, according to the OED. However, Shakespeare has the OED' s first quotation for bated as an adjective, from the Merchant of Venice in 1596: "With bated breath, and whispring humblenesse."
The OED says bate is an "aphetic form of abate." Aphetic is the adjective form of aphesis, which means "the loss of an initial, usually unstressed vowel," according to American Heritage.