Make Your Editor Cry: Bailout vs Bail Out vs Bale Out

Make Your Editor Cry:  Bailout vs Bail Out vs Bale Out

Whether you are bailing out a rowboat or a bank, use the two-word spelling to describe the action of doing it (the verb form): “we need to bail out the boat before we can go fishing.”

Bail is the correct word in relation to sums of money given in exchange for prison release, for the act of using containers to remove water from a boat, and for the crossbars at the top of a wicket in the game of cricket. Bail has several senses springing from the main ones and a bunch of really obscure ones that don’t matter to this article. For instance, we often talk about bailing people out of bad situations even when the situations have nothing to do with prison or money.

But to label the activity itself (the noun form), use the one-word spelling: “this bailout is going to be expensive.”

Now, a bale is either a great evil (e.g., … bring us bale and bitter sorrowings— Edmund Spenser) or a big bundle of something, like a bale of hay. Bale is the word for tightly bound clumps of hay, cotton, or other materials, and the making of such bundles. Bale has a second sense that is much rarer and mostly archaic meaning—namely, evil. Folks in the Bible used to worship Bale.

Webster has both spellings of bail out and bale out and all their forms having mostly the same definitions. For me? You bail the water from the boat and bale the hay. In the expression spelled as bail out, meaning to abandon a position or situation, it is nonstandard in the US to use “bale,” though that spelling is widely accepted in the UK and Webster gives it a nod.


When the airplane engines both failed the pilot decided to bail out.
Ford Motors was the only US automobile manufacturer that did not accept the government bailout.

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