at bay

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From bay (excited howling of dogs).


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Prepositional phrase[edit]

at bay

  1. (set phrase, idiomatic) Unable to come closer; at a distance.
    • 1886, Ulysses S. Grant, chapter XXIX, in Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant:
      In that case the enemy himself could have occupied the defences of Corinth and held at bay all the Union troops that arrived.
    • 1889, Lewis Carroll [pseudonym; Charles Lutwidge Dodgson], “Preface”, in Sylvie and Bruno, London; New York, N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., OCLC 156194182, page xv:
      These two books—of sacred, and secular, passages for memory—will serve other good purposes besides merely occupying vacant hours: they will help to keep at bay many anxious thoughts, worrying thoughts, uncharitable thoughts, unholy thoughts.
    • 2011 October 23, Becky Ashton, “QPR 1 - 0 Chelsea”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      The home side grew in confidence after keeping the visitors at bay and took the lead after only nine minutes, from their first foray into the penalty area.
  2. (set phrase, idiomatic) Cornered; unable to flee.
    • 1855, Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”, XXXI:
      The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay / Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,— / "Now stab and end the creature - to the heft!"
    • 1918, Edgar Rice Burroughs, chapter X, in The Land That Time Forgot:
      For a moment my gaze traversed the landscape beneath until it was caught and held by four figures near the base of the cliff—a human figure held at bay by three hyaenodons, those ferocious and blood-thirsty wild dogs of the Eocene.
    • 2004, November 22, Valerie Elliott, “Two-dog plan to keep law at bay”, in The Times:
      Instead of mounted riders following a pack of hounds, it is envisaged that just two dogs will be used to locate a stag and hold it at bay.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Usually modifying the verb "keep" - "she kept that angry customer at bay"