English Language
Word and Phrase Origins

Where does the saying "bite the bullet" come from?


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Todd L Ross
2019-08-26 14:03:50
2019-08-26 14:03:50

The exact origins of the phrase are difficult to pin down, but it’s generally attributed to the practice of biting on a bullet during warfare to deal with pain or discomfort.

According to one theory, soldiers would bite bullets during field amputations during the Civil War. Patients would either die or “bite the bullet" and undergo a horrific operation. The lead balls, while not exactly nutritious, would absorb the bite without damaging their teeth.

While some believe this arose during the Civil War, when field amputations were common, etymology blog The Phrase Finder notes that Civil War surgeons would have had access to ether and other anesthetics—soldiers wouldn’t be forced to bite bullets, sticks, or other items. Besides, the phrase predates the Civil War.

Another theory: Musket ammunition was supplied to gunmen in a paper cartridge. Half the cartridge contained the musket ball, and half contained the gunpowder that the musket ball needed to fire. To load their muskets, gunmen would bite the cartridge open so they could pour in the gunpowder and jam the ball in behind it.

While this seems like a plausible origin of the phrase, there’s nothing especially painful about biting off the top of a paper cartridge. Perhaps the phrase started among soldiers who were trying to ready one other for battle: “Just bite the bullet, and we can start fighting.”

There’s another possibility. In the 1788 text A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, lexicographer Francis Grose—himself a former soldier—suggested the phrase came from military punishments. Here’s Grose’s definition of a “nightingale,” an antiquated phrase for a coward.

“Nightingale - A soldier who, as the term is, sings out [during corporal punishment]. It is a point of honor in some regiments, among the grenadiers, never to cry out, or become nightingales, whilst under the discipline of the cat-of-nine tails; to avoid which, they chew a bullet.”

The cat-of-nine-tails was a whip used for corporal punishment. Soldiers bit bullets, which could be easily concealed in their mouths, to avoid crying out (and thus becoming “nightingales") during their floggings.

This appears to be the most likely answer, although it’s possible we don’t have a complete history. Perhaps we’ll just bite the bullet and acknowledge that we can’t truly know the origins of this idiom.


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Absolutely not! A bullet is much too fast for a rattler to detect. If it could bite a bullet its head would be torn off.

Bite the bullet means to do what you have to do, unpleasant as it is, but better in the long run than not doing it. A wounded person without anesthesia might have to endure extreme pain, which could cause him to bite his own tongue or cheeks, causing even more damage on top of whatever had already happened to him. Someone might give him a bullet to bite, so he could focus on it and not bite unpredictably.

No, there is no snake fast enough to strike at a bullet. If it did, it would die.

That is the correct expression, "It's time to swallow the bullet.", which is a way of saying that something difficult or unpleasant must be faced. It is a mix up of "bite the bullet", "a bitter pill to swallow", and "swallow your pride"; all have related meanings. <<>> Soldiers were given a bullet to bite before battlefield surgery in the days before anaesthetics. No-one ever aimed to swallow so this is a non-metaphor.

I do not know.But an expression I know that is somewhat similar is "Bite the bullet"This means to withstand the pain, endure, accept that there are difficulties, suffer the consequences, etc.The expression come from a century or more ago when there were no anesthetics available. An injured person would be told to bite down on something fairly hard but not brittle (the lead of a bullet) in order to withstand the pain of surgery.

Meltdown - 2013 Bite the Bullet 1-1 is rated/received certificates of: USA:TV-PG

Bite the bullet : Take the plunge. In other words when you are in an undecisive situation, where taking a specific decision might imply a bit of risk, to 'bite the bullet' means to finally arrive to a decision. Get down to business : To start working, usually after a break/discontinum in work

To "bite the bullet" is to endure a painful or otherwise unpleasant situation that is seen as unavoidable. The phrase was first recorded by Rudyard Kipling in his 1891 novel The Light that Failed.

"To bite the bullet" means to "suck it up". It is used when one must do something one doesn't want to do. It comes from the American Civil War, in which soldiers would literally bite a lead bullet to keep from screaming during amputation.

Female bullet ants sting and bite. Their sting in particular is notorious for being extremely painful.

Wait even if its hard to wait

To take an unhappy decision or result and deal with it resolutely

To "bite the bullet" is to stop trying to avoid an unavoidable task, steel yourself for the pain and get it over with. It could be declaring bankruptcy or meeting your future in-laws. Before modern painkillers, during medical procedures a solid item was placed in the mouth so that the one being operated on would not bite their tongue off. Sometimes a piece of wood was used but on the battlefield it was usually a lead bullet, hence the term 'bite the bullet.' The bullet gave the patient something to focus on, besides, say, the amputation of their leg. It also helped to reduce their inclination to scream, making it a little easier for the one doing the operation. The bullet, being made of lead, was soft and malleable, so that it did not crack the patient's teeth.

Like if someone were to fall, but only get a little cut if they say "Oh my gosh I'm bleeding!" someone could say "Bite the bullet" meaning 'be tough about it' or 'take it like a man' kinda like 'get over it'.

it's their way of saying they missed you.

No, it is impossible. If it could, its head would be torn off. The bullet travels much faster than a snake can strike.

'Bite your tongue' is a traditional English-language saying roughly equivalent to 'Go wash your mouth out with soap' - a mld punishment used (mostly as a threat) to teach children not to say things that they ought not to say.

If a werewolf bite can kill a vampire, then a vampire bite can kill a werewolf. The prevalent mythology is that werewolves are immune to injury except if it is caused by silver (such as a silver bullet), which would suggest that a vampire bite would not kill a werewolf.

its moves are: Pansage lvl:1 Bullet Seed Bite SolarBeam Dig

There is no way to say that. It is an English idiom.

It is so powerful, that it actually felt like you got shot by a bullet.That's how powerful.

They will bite you or other guinea pigs if they are angry or annoyed.

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