Word of the Day


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


1. money that is given to a court when someone is allowed to stay out of prison until their trial. If they do not return for the trial, the court keeps the money

2. the chance to stay out of prison until your trial

3.  in the game of cricket, one of the two small pieces of wood laid across the top of the stumps to form the wicket

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun and verb bail have several different meanings with three different etymologies. The first two meanings above were first used in Middle English and come from an Old French verb meaning ‘to take charge of’. The third meaning also comes from Old French, in this case from ‘baile’ meaning palisade or enclosure. The verb bail meaning to empty water out of a boat comes from a different source, the French word ‘baille’ meaning ‘bucket’.


The noun and verb bail have a number of different meanings ranging from aspects of the criminal justice system to cricket to boating. To start with the nouns: bail is the money that someone who is awaiting trial pays as a guarantee that they will return to face trial, as an alternative to being held in custody. Someone who has paid bail is said to be on bail. If they then decide to abscond they are said to skip or jump bail. In cricket, the bails are the two short pieces of wood that rest on top of the stumps and that the bowlers try to dislodge. Turning to the verb, to bail someone is to release them on bail. Informally, to bail means to suddenly leave something such as a project, situation or relationship. The phrasal verb bail out has several meanings, including to pay money to allow someone to stay out of prison while awaiting trial; to help a person or organization in trouble, especially financially; to leave a project, situation or relationship, especially when it becomes difficult (the same as the plain verb); to escape from a plane by parachute; and to empty water from a boat. A bailout is money that someone gives or lends to a person or organization with financial problems.


“You can print money to bail out a bank, but you can’t print life to bail out a planet.”
(Paul Hawken)

“Death’s a debt; his mandamus [writ] binds all alike — no bail, no demurrer.”
(Richard Brinsley Sheridan)

Related words

fine, house arrest, probation

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

Leave a Comment