Where does the word “abet” come from and What does it mean?

The so-called sport of bear-baiting was widely known among the Teutonic countries a thousand years ago, but it became nowhere more popular than in England, especially after the fourteenth century.

For the pleasure of the spectators, a bear, freshly caught and starved. enough to make it vicious, was fastened to a stake by a short chain or, it might be, was turned loose in a small arena.

Then dogs were set upon it, fresh dogs being supplied if the first were maimed or killed. In the end, of course, after perhaps hours of sport, one of the dogs would succeed in seizing the exhausted bear by the throat and worry it to death.

The man or boy who urged his dog to attack was said to abet it, using a contracted Old French word abeter, meaning to bait, or hound on. The early French, in turn, had taken a Norse word, beita, which meant to cause to bite.

So, though we now use abet in speaking of persons, chiefly of persons who encourage others in wrongful deeds, the word traces back to an Old Norse command to a dog, an order to attack, equivalent, perhaps, to the modern “Sic ’em!”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

Leave a Comment