"food put on a hook or trap to attract prey," c. 1300, from Old Norse beita "food, bait," especially for fish, from beita "cause to bite," from Proto-Germanic *baitjan, causative of *bitan, from PIE root *bheid- "to split," with derivatives in Germanic referring to biting. The noun is cognate with Old Norse beit "pasture, pasturage," Old English bat "food." Figurative sense "means of enticement" is from c. 1400.
c. 1200, "to torment or persecute (someone);" c. 1300, "to set a dog to bite and worry (an animal, especially a confined one, for sport)," from Old Norse beita "to cause to bite," from Proto-Germanic *baitjan (source also of Old English bætan "to cause to bite," Old High German beizzen "to bait," Middle High German beiz "hunting," German beizen "to hawk, to cauterize, etch"), causative of *bitan (see bite (v.)).
The earliest attested use is figurative of the literal one, which is from the popular medieval entertainment of setting dogs on some ferocious beast to bite and worry it. The verb also in Middle English could mean "put a horse or other domestic beast out to feed or graze," and, of persons, "to eat food," also figuratively "feast the eye" (late 14c.). Compare bait (n.). Related: Baited; baiting.
"to put food on a fishing line or in a trap," c. 1400, probably from bait (n.). From 1590s as "to lure by bait." Related: Baited; baiting.
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