from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Security, usually a sum of money, exchanged for the release of an arrested person as a guarantee of that person's appearance for trial.
  • noun Release from imprisonment provided by the payment of such money.
  • noun A person who provides this security.
  • transitive verb To secure the release of by providing security.
  • transitive verb To release (a person) for whom security has been paid.
  • transitive verb Informal To extricate from a difficult situation.
  • idiom (jump/skip) To fail to appear in court and so forfeit one's bail.
  • idiom (make bail) To secure enough money or property to pay the amount of one's bail.
  • intransitive verb To remove (water) from a boat by repeatedly filling a container and emptying it over the side.
  • intransitive verb To empty (a boat) of water by bailing.
  • intransitive verb To empty a boat of water by bailing.
  • intransitive verb To parachute from an aircraft; eject. Often used with out.
  • intransitive verb To abandon a project or enterprise. Often used with out.
  • noun A container used for emptying water from a boat.
  • noun The arched hooplike handle of a container, such as a pail.
  • noun An arch or hoop, such as one of those used to support the top of a covered wagon.
  • noun A hinged bar on a typewriter that holds the paper against the platen.
  • noun The pivoting U-shaped part of a fishing reel that guides the line onto the spool during rewinding.
  • noun A small loop, usually of metal, attached to a pendant to enable it to be strung on a necklace or bracelet.
  • noun Chiefly British A pole or bar used to confine or separate animals.
  • noun Sports One of the two crossbars that form the top of a wicket used in the game of cricket.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A hoop or ring; a piece of wood, metal, or other material bent into the form of a circle or half-circle, as a hoop for supporting the tilt of a boat, the cover of a wagon or cradle, etc. Specifically The hoop forming the handle of a kettle or bucket.
  • noun One of the iron yokes which serve to suspend a lifecar from the hawser on which it runs.
  • noun A stout iron yoke placed over heavy guns and fitting closely over the ends of the trunnions, to which it is attached by pins in the axis of the trunnions: used to raise the gun by means of the gin.
  • noun An arched support of a millstone.
  • noun A wooden canopy formed of bows.
  • To provide with a bail; hoop.
  • In law: To deliver, as goods, without transference of ownership, on an agreement, expressed or implied, that they shall be returned or accounted for. See bailment.
  • To set free, deliver, or liberate from arrest and imprisonment, upon security given that the person bailed shall appear and answer in court or satisfy the judgment given: applied to the action of the magistrate or the surety.
  • Figuratively, to release; liberate.
  • To be security for; secure; protect.
  • noun Power; custody; jurisdiction.
  • noun The keeping of a person in nominal custody on security that he shall appear in court at a specified time.
  • noun Security given to obtain the release of a prisoner from custody, pending final decision in the action against him.
  • noun Figuratively, security; guaranty.
  • noun Liberation on bail: as, to grant bail.
  • noun The person or persons who provide bail, and thus obtain the temporary release of a prisoner.
  • noun [Bail, being an abstract noun applicable to persons only by ellipsis, is not used in the plural.]
  • noun To vouch (for a thing): as, I'll go bail for that.
  • noun A bar; a cross-bar.
  • noun In cricket, one of the two little bars or sticks, about 4 inches long, which are laid on the tops of the stumps, one end resting in the groove of one stump, and the other in that of the next.
  • noun A bar or pole to separate horses in a stable.
  • noun A framework for securing the head of a cow while she is being milked.
  • noun [The earliest use in E.] Milit.: plural The outer wall or line of defenses, originally often made of stakes; barriers; palisades. See palisade. Hence— The space inclosed by the outer wall; the outer court of a castle or a fortified post: in this sense usually called bailey. See bailey.
  • noun A certain limit in a forest.
  • To bar in; confine.
  • To provide with a bail.
  • noun A bucket; a pail; especially, a bucket or other small vessel used to dip water out of a boat.
  • etc. Obsolete and less proper spelling of bale, etc.
  • To remove (water), or free (a boat, etc.) from water, with a bail, bucket, basin, or other small vessel: usually with out.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, custody, from Old French, from baillier, to take charge of, from Latin bāiulāre, to carry a load, from bāiulus, carrier of a burden.]

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[From Middle English baille, bucket, from Old French, from Vulgar Latin *bāiula, water container, from Latin bāiulāre, to carry a load.]

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English beil, perhaps from Old English *bēgel or of Scandinavian origin; see bheug- in Indo-European roots.]

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Old French dialectal, probably from Latin baculum, stick; see bacillus.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

by shortening from bail out, which comes from etymology 1

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English beyl, from Old Norse beygla ("a bend, ring or hoop")

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From French baillier.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From the Old French verb bailler ("to deliver or hand over") and noun bail ("lease"), from Latin bāiulāre, present active infinitive of bāiulō ("carry or bear").


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  • Contranymic in the sense: bail out (remove yourself from something, say, an airplane) vs. remove something (water) from yourself (in the boat).

    February 23, 2007

  • Handle of a kettle or pail. You could make a blackberry bucket by attacting a wire bail to a three pound coffee can. But these days you probably wouldn't.

    July 21, 2007

  • Used in South Park as a shortened form of "Let's get the hell out of here", or "Let's give up, this crap is stupid". Typically used as both a question and the affirmative response.

    July 21, 2007

  • Bail? Bail!


    July 21, 2007

  • Cricket jargon - a small piece of wood that forms part of the wicket, with two bails resting atop the stumps.

    November 29, 2007

  • “In a group, you follow a guide with two electric lanterns, suspended from bails like railroad lanterns.”

    Season on the Chalk by John McPhee, in Silk Parachute, p 27

    I wasn't familiar with the handle-of-a-kettle-or-a-pail-or-a-lantern sense of this word until now.

    June 20, 2010

  • It's funny that there's a bail on the bucket you might use to bail out a boat. (Funny in that way that will make me try to make some ridiculous joke about "bucket-ing" out a boat sometime.)

    April 3, 2012

  • fianza

    September 17, 2013