Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

To Bite the Bullet (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "To Bite the Bullet"?

The term bite the bullet means to do something against your will.

If someone tells you to just bite the bullet, they understand you donít want to carry out the action but want you to do it anyway. This term most likely derives from the time of the British Empire in India. At that time, bullets had to be primed by filling the casing with gunpowder. Sealed with animal fat, the casing was often difficult to separate from the bullet head, and it had to be opened by biting the casing. Indian soldiers were often reluctant to do this because the casing was coated with animal fat, the eating of which (dependent on the type of fat) was against their religion. Such reluctant soldiers were told to just bite the bullet.

A Competing Theory

The term bite the bullet means to start what will be a pain experience.

Before the advent of anaesthesia, a patient undergoing surgery would bite on a piece of wood to prevent shattering his teeth by clenching his jaw.† In the absence of wood, the patient would be given a bullet to bite.† The lead was softer than his teeth and would not damage them when he bit down.

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