keep or hold at bay
- to keep something dangerous at a safe distance
- have to face something or someone attacking you
- not be able to move closer while trying to attack
- unable to approach something safely
- prevent something bad from harming you
- prevent something or somebody unpleasant from coming too near to one or harming one
- The scientists were able to keep the disease at bay with the help of modern medicine.
- The bison crowded around the newly born calves and held the wolves at bay with their horns.
- A handful of soldiers were able to keep the mercenaries at bay and protect the town.
- Collin was such a charmer that Patty found it difficult to keep his advances at bay.
- Good nutrition will help keep COVID-19 at bay.
- The area was hit by a serious epidemic, but luckily he could keep himself at bay.
This phrase appears to have started out in 14th century French. It was used in the context of hunting. Keeping the hounds at bay is to keep them off the quarry they are hunting, and they will 'bay' (bark and howl). If you imagine a deer or fox running from a pack of dogs, exhausted and finally cornered, unable to run any further. The dogs would be baying to attack but afraid of the antlers and teeth. They 'bay' for the masters to come and shoot the animal.