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political cartoon of china and US relationship
figure 1  

 

at bay. 1. The position of having been checked or held at a distance.reference 1

Figure 1 (from Taiwan Communiqué) is a modified version of a political cartoon by TaCo which mocks the ability of the United States to fulfill its promises to Taiwan and hold China “at bay.”reference 2 That is, to keep it at a distance. One of the striking uses of this expression shows an odd inversion of the origin. It seems that when a human is keeping dangers at bay, those dangers are metaphorically described as hounds. Thus, when sports columnist William Rhoden was discussing the pressures on a young tennis star, he noted that it was not only time that would tell: “... we'll see how his family holds the marketing hounds at bay.”reference 3

1. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth. 2000. Bartleby.com, Accessed Oct 30, 2002 from http:// www.bartleby.com/ 61/22/B0122200.html.

2. TaCo. 2001. Don't Worry. Taiwan Communiqué 2005 (96). Accessed Apr 18 2008 from http:// www.taiwandc.org/ twcom/96-no1.htm.
dog holding a knife on a man
figure 2  

at bay. 2. The position of one cornered by pursuers and forced to turn and fight at close quarters.

This is illustrated in Figure 2, in which a man has been backed into a corner by a dog brandishing a knife. While the American Heritage Dictionary places this as the first definition, it is not one that shows up much in the public sphere these days. It tends to be specifically associated with hunting.reference 4

3. Rhoden, William C. 2005. Win-Win Situation for Men's Finalists at Roland Garros. New York Times, Jun 6, 7.

4. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth.
dogs running in harmony
figure 3  

at bay. 3. In the context of hunting, there is yet a third meaning: when the hounds are at bay during the course of the hunt it may refer to the moment they catch the scent and the tone of the barking changes as they are off on the chase. It may also refer to the moment the prey is cornered and turns to face its pursuers; the prey is then described as standing—or lying (which can often the case for an exhausted deer, for instance)—“at bay.”reference 5 While I can imagine at bay being used metaphorically in this way, I was unable to locate any examples. This form of the reference strikes me as too obscure for most audiences.

dog at a music stand with notes emerging from its mouth
figure 4  

The phrase derives from the Old French abaiier, which means to bark. Baying, it seems is not just any kind of barking but a particular kind of barking. Baying is usually described as more high pitched and excitement seems to be conveyed.

 

5. United Kingdom. Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England &Wales. 2000. Report. Official Documents Archive. The Stationery Office. Accessed Feb 12 2006 from http:// www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/ document/ cm47/ 4763 /4763-02.htm

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About the illustrations: Figure 1. What is difficult to see in this version is that the figure of Uncle Sam is rolling backward on a pair of roller skates labeled “One China Policy.”reference 2

Figure 2. The image is from a version of Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes illustrated by Ella Dolbear Lee, © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.reference 6

Figures 3 and 4 show dogs singing their own tunes. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

6. Lee, Ella Dolbear. 1918. The Ella Dolbear Lee Mother Goose. New York, Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Company.

see also: tree, bark like a dog, barking up the wrong tree
cf: bird dog; that dog won't hunt
Last updated: June 21, 2008
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