The idiom which is going to be discussed here in this post is: Keep something at bay or hold someone/something at bay, so notice the following example to know the meaning of this popular idiom:
Mark: Do you have any information about Jack?
Mike: I just heard that he had an surgery on Tuesday.
Mark: So how is he now? Was he able to defeat his cancer?
Mike: The doctors could keep his cancer at bay for several months.
As you can see from the above example, Jack had cancer and he had an surgery which was successful somehow. It seems the doctors could prevent his cancer to be worse. Mark says this by using the phrase “keep his cancer at bay” which is the idiom we are discussing about. Actually the phrase “keep his cancer at bay” in this example means doctors could help Jack on his illness whit stopping and preventing Jack’s illness from becoming worse than before.
Keep something at bay
- to keep something away
- to control something in order to keep it from doing harm to oneself
- to prevent somebody/something from coming too close or attacking
- to prevent something or somebody unpleasant from coming too near to one or harming one
- to keep something at a distance from oneself, especially that which is harmful or unpleasant
- to prevent someone or something that is threatening or attacking from being able to advance
- If you keep / hold something or someone at bay, you stop them from attacking you or harming you.
To know more about this idiom let’s check the definition of this idiom in some great dictionaries:
to keep something at bay
to hold (or keep) someone/something at bay:
prevent someone or something from approaching or having an effect
to control something and prevent it from causing you problems
to prevent something dangerous or unpleasant from happening or from coming too close
to prevent something serious, dangerous, or unpleasant from affecting you
Related words and phrases:
beat off, bottle up, check, contain, control, curb, fend off, hold at bay, hold back, oppose, put up fight, repel, reply, repress, repulse, resist, restrain, retaliate, stave off, ward off
The phrase “at bay” in this idiom means in the position of being unable to move closer while attacking or trying to approach someone, and as you can see from this idiom, this phrase is usually used with the verbs “keep” or “hold”. Please note that this idiom is often used figuratively.
It seems that ‘at bay’ is a nautical phrase and the allusion is to a ship that is anchored in a bay and it is waiting to enter a port. The phrase ‘in the offing’ has the same meaning too. Based on some resources this phrase ‘at bay’ was derived from French phrase ‘abai’ or ‘abbay’ which both mean ‘barking” and then they changed into ‘at bay’.
Bay means ‘a broad inlet of the sea where the land curves inward’ as a noun and it means ‘(of a dog, especially a large one) bark or howl loudly’ as a verb. So the idiom ‘To keep at bay’ means ‘to be in a standoff with a baying dog that was intent on killing’ and even it means ‘fend off”.
English Idiom: Keep something at bay
Let’s take a look at some examples about this idiom to understand it better:
• The soldiers kept the enemy at bay.
• The cat voice holds the mice at bay.
• Sandbags could keep the floodwaters at bay.
• She is so serious to keep her boyfriend at bay.
• The government is not able to keep the inflation at bay.
• Doctors believe that Vitamin C is good for keeping colds at bay.
• Taking medicine is not the only way to hold severe pain at bay.
• Global Warming is an issue which is kept at bay by Trump’s administration.