Wednesday Words & Phrases: Bite The Bullet

“Borrowed” from Dreamstime. Amazing how many results for this image search were on the risque side! 

Bite The Bullet

The phrase “bite the bullet” is one that you most likely hear in regards to someone doing something they don’t want to do or to have courage in the face of adversity.

“I don’t want to go to this meeting, but I guess I better bite the bullet.”

It has long been thought that the military origin of this word comes from around the time of the American Civil War when patients on the operating table were given a bullet to bite down on the help them not think about the pain. This is a little suspect though as for the most part, though anesthetics were still in an early stage of use most patients were given a leather strap to bite down on or even a piece of wood.

Plus the phrase actually predates the Civil War by a number of years turning up in the 1796 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The phrase “chew a bullet” is part of the definition of Nightingale, a soldier that cries out when being punished. Tough soldiers were said to chew the bullet to avoid calling out.

It can be said the phrase entered the popular zeitgeist in Rudyard Kipling’s 1891 novel The Light That Failed where the phrase was used to indicate toughening up and doing something that must be done.

All said the phrase has a definite military origin, even if it can’t be nailed down completely.