Why do we say "To bite the bullet"?

Well-Known Expressions

To bite the bullet

Meaning:

To force yourself to do something that you really don't want to do.

Background:

All likely sources of this expression trace back to the military, but there are at least three variations:

  • Back in the days when soldiers wounded on the battlefield were treated without the benefits of anesthesia they bit down on a bullet instead, perhaps to distract themselves from the pain or to avoid cracking their teeth by biting down too hard; or simply to avoid crying out (biting down on leather was also an option).
  • Soldiers/sailors being disciplined with a whipping would be given a bullet (or leather strop) to bite on because it was considered a point of honor not to cry out.
  • Some cartridges used to come in two parts - the missile which was held in place by grease, and the gunpowder. To prime the gun it was necessary to bite the bullet in half, pour the gunpowder into the barrel and then spit the bullet down the barrel. Some believe that the expression dates from when Indian soldiers fought for the British Empire because the fat used could have been from a variety of animals, including pigs and cows. If the cartridge contained pig or cow fat the solider could be considered damned, as pig meat is taboo for Muslims, and cows are considered holy by Hindus.

    From time to time one of the Wordplays can have more than one valid interpretation. In this instance, we had in mind 'to bite the bullet'; but also counted 'to beat the band' and 'to break the bank' as correct when randomly selecting the winner.

    Alphabetical list of expressions

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