What Does Bite the Bullet Mean?

Bite the Bullet Meaning

Definition: Do something unpleasant or uncomfortable.

This idiom means that one must accept the inevitable hardship that might come with a difficult action. Despite the resulting pain, one must be strong and courageous and do what is necessary.

Usually, the unpleasant or uncomfortable action is something that the person has been putting off or resisting before he inevitably bites the bullet and does what he know he must do.

Origin of Bite the Bullet

what does the expression bite the bullet meanWhile there are many theories about the origin of this phrase, the most likely origin story is described in Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1796 under the definition of “Nightingale”:

  • A soldier who, as the term is, sings out at the halberts. It is a point of honour in some regiments, among the grenadiers, never to cry out, or become nightingales, whilst under the discipline of the cat of nine tails; to avoid which, they chew a bullet.

It seems as though biting or chewing a bullet would occupy the mouth and distract from the pain, so the soldiers would not scream.

In 1891, a dialogue in Rudyard Kipling’s The Light That Failed uses the phrase in the meaning of gaining
fortitude from biting a bullet:

  • “Steady, Dickie, steady!” said the deep voice in his ear, and the grip tightened. “Bite on the bullet, old man, and don’t let them think you’re afraid.”

Examples of Bite the Bullet

what does it mean to bite the bulletIn the modern day, this phrase is used to tell people to stop being weak and do what they are afraid to do.

For example, if someone is nervous about going to the dentist but later acquires a terribly painful toothache, he is going to need to bite the bullet and visit the dentist.

Here is a fictional dialogue of two friends talking about car repairs,

Dave: How is your car running?

Steve: Pretty good. However, I’m not sure how long these tires will last.

Dave: How many miles left on them do you think there is?

Steve: They should be good for another 10,000 miles, but I might just bite the bullet and get some new ones before winter.

The phrase is also often used as an encouragement or a call to do something, as in,

  • Come on, bite the bullet. You know you need to tell David how you feel.

More Examples

  • PERA pension board must bite the bullet on needed reform. –The Denver Post
  • They don’t want to bite the bullet and go back to normal jobs, because they still themselves as a celebrity. –The Guardian

Summary

If you have been hesitating or resisting something difficult or unpleasant, you must bite the bullet and force yourself to do what is necessary.