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What does bail mean in the following remark?

I had a female coworker, and she suggested that her husband and I play racquetball after work. My regular partner had bailed. So we meet up, play racquetball, and go back into the lockers to shower and then grab a beer.

Does bail here mean to leave a place, especially quickly, or to leave a difficult situation, or does it mean something else?

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In the example, verb bail is being used more along the lines of “To fail to meet a commitment” rather than either of the alternatives you mentioned.

Something I associate with bailed or bailed on me or bailed out on me is being told at the last minute that the person can't make it. If they just don't show up, and don't tell you, they have stood you up instead of just bailing. However, I don't know if that's a common interpretation of the connotations.

The sense “To fail to meet a commitment” of bail, and the other senses you mentioned, ultimately stem (I think) from the following sense:

2. To admit to bail, to liberate on bail; to release (a person) from immediate arrest or imprisonment, on security being given by one or more sureties that the person so released shall be duly presented for trial. (From OED1's entry for verb bail; with cites from 1548 forward)

In a comment, J.R. suggests that bail's sense of abandoning an obligation is associated with boat-bailing rather than with freeing from arrest, and provides a collinsdictionary link in evidence. Note that that link makes no explicit connection between boat-bailing and obligation-abandoning, but merely includes a link to a bail out entry that includes the sense “(informal) to flee a difficult or dangerous situation”. However, etymonline's bail entry is very slightly more explicit; within the item that refers to boat-bailing it says: “To bail out "leave suddenly" (intransitive) is recorded from 1930, originally of airplane pilots”.
Bail (v.1, 1610s), as in to bail a boat, derives from nautical Old French baille “bucket, pail”.
Bail (v.2, 1580s), as in to bail someone out of jail, derives from Old French baillier “to control, to guard, deliver”.
Both Old French terms derive from Latin bajulare “to bear a burden”.

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    Does it make sense if I say "My partner had bailed on me"? – Theo Sep 20 '13 at 0:39
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    Theo, yes, but the briefer “My partner bailed” seems more natural to me. Also, something I associate with bailed or bailed on me is being told at the last minute that the person can't make it. If they just don't show up, and don't tell you, they have stood you up instead of just bailing. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Sep 20 '13 at 1:07
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    I've always thought that "he bailed on me" was an informal way of saying "he bailed out on me" and was more closely linked to bailing out of an aircraft than being liberated from jail. Many dictionaries I consulted linked this sense of bail (i.e., to abandon a responsibility or obligation) to the word bail as in bail out a boat rather than bail out of jail. (Minor technicality, I know.) – J.R. Sep 20 '13 at 10:00
  • Jwpat, you should add the distinction between stood one up and bail to the answer itself. – Jonathan Garber Sep 20 '13 at 13:38
  • @J.R.- I agree with you. This usage stems from the aeronautical "bailing out" – Jim Sep 21 '13 at 4:48

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