Bid (meaning)

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The verb 'to bid', whose forms are given at bid (irregular verb), has three main strands of meaning in current English, of which one is slightly archaic in tone, though still used in academic social circles. ('To bid' represents two separate words in Old English, which both included an idea of 'commanding'. So they became confused, and have not been distinguished in form or meaning since the fifteenth century.) These are:

  • 'to offer', mostly used nowadays of 'to offer a sum of money to buy [something]'. At an auction sale, for example, the lot is sold to the person who bids the highest price. Other, less common, uses include:
    • 'to offer' things other than money, as in the phrase 'to bid [someone] defiance' (~ to defy)
    • It can be used in competitions such as for the right to do something: "When London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, Havana, Istanbul, Leipzig, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Paris and Rio de Janeiro had also bid for them"
    • 'to offer' a 'contract' in card-games such as Contract Bridge (i.e. to state that one will take a certain number of tricks)
    • in such phrases as 'to bid fair' (~ 'to be probable', 'to offer good odds'): "It bids fair to rain tomorrow" is an expression that it is likely to rain. Commentators on a sporting event may say that a competitor 'is bidding well for the bronze medal' (~ 'she looks as though she will finish third')
  • 'to order or command': "I bid you to tell me..." OED comments "(Still literary; also in every-day use in the north; but in the south colloquially expressed by tell, as 'tell him to sit down' for 'bid him sit down'.)"
    • In this sense, consider its derivative meaning 'to order [someone] not to', forbid
  • The sense least frequently found these days is 'to pray', or 'to ask pressingly for [something]', or just 'to ask' 'to invite'.
    • Services in the Church of England sometimes have bidding prayers: those in which the congregation ask God to grant some particular request. (OED has a note explaining the etymological flaws in what it calls `the 'vulgar error' in the history of this usage: at meaning 6 s.v. bidding, vbl. n., summarised at bidding prayer.)
    • 'to invite': "I am bidden to dine with the Professor and Mrs Smith on Tuesday, so I cannot accept your kind invitation for the same night."
    • 'to wish', in such phrases as "He bid them farewell" (~ 'he said goodbye') and "I bid you good day" (~ 'I wish you good morning')