Monday, October 18, 2010

Origins: Bail



Bail:

The word “bail” has a number of senses, including:
-  to bail someone out of jail;
-  the government bailing out car manufacturers;
-  to bail water out of a boat;
-  the crossbar on top of a cricket wicket.

A number of these senses originate from the Latin word “bajulare”, meaning “to carry, to bear a burden”. This resulted in the French “baillier”, meaning “to take charge of” or “hand over or deliver”, as used in the most common meaning of bail, the release of a person who would otherwise be in jail, either upon payment of a security deposit (also known as “bail”) or into the charge of someone who swears to ensure the accused’s appearance at court.

There is an archaic meaning from the 16th century of “bail” as “to vouch for, to guarantee”, being a solemn commitment to see a task through. It is in this sense that the word is used in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island:

“I’ll go with you [in search of treasure]; and, I’ll go bail for it, so will Jim, and be a credit to the undertaking.”

“…I would have gone bail for the innocence of Long John Silver”

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