A door swung open, sending a blast of cold air and a flapping sound through the java joint. Slowly, I lifted my head. A black-clad, caped figure with a pointy-eared hood stretched over his face flapped into my office. Batman. Sure, why not? This was Hollywood, an area that had earned the sobriquet Hollyweird and wasn’t about to give it up. We were a few miles from the Chinese Theatre where you expect to see caped crusaders flocking like pigeons to the Piazza San Marco. Lately the cops had been cracking down on costumed characters for aggressive begging, scattering Scissorhands and Scooby-Doos in search of safer ground.
“Who wants to know?”
Blue eyes bored through the slits in his mask. “I can pay cash,” he said, flicking some crumpled but nicely denominated bills onto the table. I smoothed them on the edge of the table and slipped them away.
“Okay, Batman. Have a seat. What can I do for you?”
He told me. Was this guy batty? I wondered. But my wallet bulged with Benjamins so I gave him the information he was looking for.
He bounded out, whipping his cape out of the way of the slamming door.
Batting an eye, batty, bats (in the belfry and the ballpark) – were they related? I checked the OED Online.
Bat, meaning a stick or cudgel, may be a merger of two words. The word bat appeared in Middle English apparently from Old French batte (from battre, ultimately from Latin battuere, ‘to beat’). Some etymologists reconstructed a hypothetical Old English word, *bat, believing it to be of Celtic origin. But others think the Old English word may be borrowed from “a Romance language” and so it would stem from the same Latin source, entering the language twice.
To bat a ball is one thing. That verb derives from the instrument of the same name. Bat as in “batting an eye” also came from battuere but it took the long way round. Bat in that sense came from bate ‘to beat back or blunt the edge of’ or ‘to lessen in force or intensity,’ now heard almost exclusively in the expression “to wait with bated breath.” Bate is a shortening of abate ‘to put an end to,’ which comes from Anglo-Norman abater, ‘to knock down, raze, dismantle,’ ultimately from Latin ab- ‘away’ + battuere, ‘to beat’
Okay, I’m beat. More on bats and batting later.