All Bark and No Bite (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "All Bark and No Bite"?

The term "all bark and no bite" means threatening but not willing to engage in a fight.

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All Bark and No Bite (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Jack talks tough, but he's all bark and no bite.
  • Tony has threatened me with legal action, but I'm going to call his bluff. I think he is all bark and no bite.
  • Anne says she's going to set up a chain of coffee shops, but she struggles even to get up in the morning. She is all bark and no bite.
This idiom is a metaphor for someone who talks a lot but does not act. It fits best when it relates to words of a threatening nature as it suggests the threat will not be actioned.

It is similar to the sayings "a barking dog seldom bites," "all mouth and no trousers," and even "actions speak louder than words." These notions are captured in Tudor courtier John Heywood's glossary of proverbs "Thersytes" (circa 1550):
  • Great barking dogges, do not most byte And oft it is sene that the best men in the hoost Be not suche, that vse to bragge moste.
  • ("Most barking dogs do not bite, and it is often the case that the best man is not he that brags most.")
The saying "all bark and no bite," which alludes to a dog but does not mention one, came into common use around the start of the 19th century (evidence). In this saying, "bark" is a metaphor for threatening language or strong claims, and "bite" is a metaphor for action.

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