The Grammarphobia Blog

Bacon, bats, and girls

Q: As a child, I attended an all-girls’ academy up in Albany, NY. Every year, we had a field day that included sports and a picnic. This outing was traditionally called a Bacon Bat. The bacon part I get (there was a barbecue involved in the original Bacon Bat). But what is a “Bat”? I don’t think this has anything to do with baseball. Is there some kind of old-fashioned meaning for “Bat”?

A: A slang meaning for “bat,” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) is binge or spree. So, a Bacon Bat could be a bacon binge. But the term “bat” suggests drinking and carousing. I’m not sure your girls’ academy had that in mind.

The Oxford English Dictionary speculates that this usage may be derived from “on the batter,” meaning on a binge, a British expression that originated in the early 19th century.

The first published reference in the OED for “bat” as binge dates from 1848: “Zenas had been on ‘a bat’ during the night previous.” The last citation is in Evelyn Waugh’s 1941 novel Put Out More Flags: “Why don’t you switch to rum? It’s much better for you …. When did you start on this bat?”

Again, I doubt that your school had booze in mind when field day was named a Bacon Bat. But it’s the best that I can come up with.

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