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According to the dictionary, "to spoil" means "to destroy/ruin" or "to treat well".

So what does "spoiling" mean in the sentence of "she is not spoiling for a fight"? (as in "she is baited to have a fight, but she is not spoiling for it".)

I interpreted it to mean "to treat well". But if so, I would have written it as "she is not spoiled for a fight". Or did the author use it in the context of "to destroy"?

  • I think in your example, you meant "bated", as in anxious, not "baited", as in a reward offered to one's detriment. But it would depend on whether there was bait or not. Your first mention of "spoil" is commonly used to mean treat excessively well, but it stems from being treated so well as to destroy or ruin. – Suncat2000 Apr 27 '18 at 19:37
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According to Google's Dictionary:

to spoil

  1. be extremely or aggressively eager for. "Cooper was spoiling for a fight"

synonymns: eager for, itching for, looking for, keen to have, raring for, after, bent on, set on, on the lookout for, longing for

So in your text, she was not looking for the fight. She has no desire to fight.

  • 4
    This answer about the etymology of "spoiling for a fight" pins this particular phrase to a period from 1858-1859. english.stackexchange.com/a/284465/149426 Note that that originally it explicitly included phrasing such as "spoiling for WANT of a fight" - or in more simple English: "(Person/people X) is really wanting to fight, and extremely frustrated that she/he/they are not (yet) fighting". – Craig Hicks Apr 27 '18 at 14:50
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    And the particular expression is only used in conjunction with fighting/arguing. In contrast a similar expression "Dying for Y", can used in almost any instance, but is usually used in the first person: "I'm dying for something to eat" = I'm hungry; "I'm dying for a beer" = I want to drink a beer; "I'm dying to see Justin Beiber", etc. – Craig Hicks Apr 27 '18 at 14:57
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    In using that phrasing, I'd say the intent was that she wasn't going to try to start a fight but might not avoid one if it came along. This has a much different feel than her having no desire to fight. – Bill K Apr 27 '18 at 17:54
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    Google is not the original source for this definition (that would be en.oxforddictionaries.com). Can you please edit to change this? – Laurel Apr 27 '18 at 18:15
  • @Laurel My source was Google's dictionary. No reference appears there to the site you mention – RubioRic Apr 27 '18 at 19:06
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The phrase to be spoiling for a fight is an idiomatic expression in English which means:

to be very eager to fight or argue

Therefore, she is not spoiling for a fight means she is not eager to fight or argue. In the context of the sentence:

She is baited to have a fight, but she is not spoiling for it.

it means that even though people are tempting her to have a fight or the circumstances of the situation are such that she is forced to have a fight (it can be a physical as well as verbal one), she doesn't really want to.

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A little etymology to add on to the other correct answers:

spoil (v.)

c. 1300, "to strip (someone) of clothes, strip a slain enemy," from Old French espillier "to strip, plunder, pillage," from Latin spoliare "to strip, uncover, lay bare; strip of clothing, rob, plunder, pillage." ...

From late 14c. in English as "strip with violence, rob, pillage, plunder, dispossess; impoverish with excessive taxation." Sense of "destroy, ruin, damage so as to render useless" is from 1560s; that of "to over-indulge" (a child, etc.) is from 1640s ... To be spoiling for (a fight, etc.) is from 1865, from notion that one will "spoil" if he doesn't get it.

Note this particular idiom is only about 150 years old. It's an odd definition, to be sure, but many words in English take these weird twists and turns through their history.

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