"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Saturday, 26 January 2013

To bite the bullet

   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.   It is often stated that it is derived historically from the practice of having a patient clench a bullet in his or her teeth as a way to cope with the pain of a surgical procedure without anesthetic. But evidence for biting a bullet rather than a leather strap during surgery is sparse.  It os more likely to have evolved from the British empire expression "to bite the cartridge", which dates to the Indian Rebellion of 1857. In this version of the etymology, the idea of tolerating necessary hardship refers to the British wish that the sepoys would ignore any small presence of animal fat in their paper cartridges.


  1. I must admit the last explanation puzzles me somewhat. Who or what are sepoys, and why would the British wish them to ignore animal fat in paper cartridges?

    1. Sepoys were Indian native soldiers serving in the British army – most were Hindu and although it is not an absolute requirement of their religion the vast majority of Hindus were vegetarian.