Notes and Queries (1885)

Burning of Bait

p. 149. Feb. 21, 1885
BURNING OF BAIT (BEAT, BATE).—We have quotations for this agricultural operation, from Gervase Markham downwards, but none clearly showing what bail, beat, or bate is, or which is the etymological spelling. Can any one help us? The suggestion has been made that peat is the same word, which is demonstrably wrong. Peat, old Scotch pete, is one of the earliest Lowland Scottish words which we can cite, for its Latinized form peta, and also petaria, a peat-bog, occur in the early charters, long before the date of any vernacular documents. It is to be noted that peat is not turf; peta and turba, petaria and turbaria, are carefully distinguished in Scottish charters and laws, where, also, we find beside them carbonaria, or coal-pits.
Mill Hill, N.W.

BAIT OF HEMP.—Last century various writers say that hemp is bound up in bundles called baits when about to be steeped. Is this term still applied to bundles of hemp or flax? Is anything known as to the origin of the word in this sense?
Hill, N.W.

p. 178. Feb. 28, 1885
BURNING OF BAIT: BAIT OF HEMP (6th S. xi. 149).—The term bat is commonly applied in North Lincolnshire to a bundle of straw used in thatching, &c.; and in Peacock's Glossary I find it is also applied to "a turf used for burning." Is this latter akin to brick-bat?
J. T. F.
Bp. Hatfield's Hall, Durham.

Perhaps bait is connected with Icel. beit, pasturage. Cf. Icel. beiti, (1) pasturage, (2) heather, ling.

p. 216. Mar. 14, 1885
BURNING OF BAIT (6th S. xi. 149, 178).—DR. MURRAY, alluding to the suggestion that peat is a modification of the element beat in the old agricultural process of beat-burning (that is to say, paring the surface of the land and burning the beat-burrows, or dried heaps of turf, to ashes), says that the identification of the two words is demonstrably wrong. "Peat," he says, "old Scotch pete, is one of the earliest words we can cite, for its Latinized form peta and also petaria, a peat-bog, occur in the early charters, long before the date of any vernacular documents." But what has the preservation in written documents to do with the question? Undoubtedly the word pete was in use in the vernacular when it was Latinized in the form of peta, and unless it can be shown that the process of beat-burning was unknown at that time I do not see that a step has been taken towards negativing the supposed derivation. Peat is exclusively an English word, and must have arisen on English soil. The more ancient term is turf, the equivalent of which in all the continental languages (Dutch torf, French tourbe, Italian torba, &c.) is applied to the black substance to which we now give the name of peat. Nor can it even now be broadly asserted that "peat is not turf." A peat fire is, I think, spoken of all over Ireland as a turf fire, and digging peat is there called cutting turf. That petaria and turbaria are separately mentioned in the charters and old laws should go for little. Lawyers have always been fond of strings of synonyms.

In coal-mining a piece of coal is said in Yorkshire to be long-baited when its shape is long and narrow, or when it breaks into long and narrow pieces. The reverse of this is short-baited. A tree in Yorkshire is said to be long-baited when its growth is even, and it is not twisted or knotty. Though this does not answer DR. MURRAY'S query, it may be useful to him.

p. 354. May 2, 1885
BURNING OF BAIT (6th S. xi. 149, 178, 216).—In the following passage the order of the words is reversed, but I do not know that it suggests anything:—
"The ground being turfie, and haying not been lately broken up, may be burn-beat in June or July, which will much inrich and lighten the land; as is now practised in remote countries, and was in former ages [quot. Virgil]."—Worlidge, Treatise of Cider (1676), ed. 1691, p. 74.

p. 517. June 27, 1885
BURNING OF BAIT (6th S. xi. 149, 178, 216, 354).—As showing that bait was at one time understood to be spelt beat, though pronounced like date, may I copy Bailey's definition of the process, which he gives as follows, only changing the word which terminates in ing. He gives "Burn Beating, a Way of manuring Land, by cutting off the Peat or Turf, laying it in Heaps and burning it into Ashes." As to the pronunciation of eat like ăte; in Devonshire, at least, it is a well recognized mode, seat being always by the country folk called săte; meat, măte; wheat, whăte; and so on.
W. S. B. H.