hold at bay, to

hold someone or something at bay

Fig. to make someone, a group, or an animal stay at a safe distance. (Originally referred only to animals.) I held the attacker at bay while Mary got away and called the police. The dogs held the bear at bay while I got my gun loaded.
See also: bay, hold

hold at bay, to

To keep some adverse situation from worsening; to hold off an enemy. The term comes from the Old French tenir a bay, which meant to hold open or in suspense, and referred to a hunted animal being cornered by its pursuers. The term was used literally by the fourteenth century, and figuratively soon thereafter. It is also phrased as to keep at bay.
See also: hold