What Does to Bite Your Tongue Mean?

Bite Your Tongue Meaning

Definition: To stop yourself from speaking, even though you really want to say something.

This expression means to prevent yourself from saying something, usually to another person, because you think saying it would negatively affect the situation. It may be a criticism of the person, a secret you promised not to tell, or other information you feel would be harmful to the situation.

It can also be used as an admonishment, as in, “Why did you say that? You should have bit your tongue.” if the person has already revealed too much.

Origin of to Bite Your Tongue

what does bite your tongue meanBiting one’s tongue by holding it between the teeth naturally prevents speaking. It is clear that this is where the idea originates; it is not clear, however, when the phrase first became common in everyday use.

Shakespeare used the phrase in a number of plays, including this bit from his 1593 play Henry VI

  • So Orke must sit, and fret, and bit his tongue.

We can assume, therefore, that the phrase has been understood in its current context since the 16th century.

Examples of Bite One’s Tongue

what does it mean when you bite your tongue originIn the modern day, using this idiom can be lighthearted. For example, if your friend has a new haircut and you bite your tongue to not say how horrible you think it looks.

This idiom can also be used in serious contexts—say you are in an argument, and you stop yourself from revealing crucial information.

Less commonly, in the imperative, this expression means that we don’t want to hear what the other person has said.

Non-fan: The Buffalo Bills are the worst football team in the country.

Fan: Bite your tongue! They get better every year.

Here is an example of this phrase from a fictional dialogue of two co-workers speaking with each other,

Sharon: Did you hear what Paul said today?

Leah: No, what did he say?

Sharon: When he and I were talking to Michael, he took credit for my idea.

Leah: What did you do?

Sharon: I just stood there and bit my tongue. I’m going to give him a piece of my mind later.

Leah: You should! That is unacceptable.

More Examples

  • The next time you feel the urge to tell a stranger something about her weight, bite your tongue. –Journal News
  • If they start talking politics, I just leave… it’s the equivalent of your grandma saying something racist at Christmas dinner; you know you just have to bite your tongue. –Bon Appetit

Summary

To bite your tongue is to stop yourself from saying something that might be harmful to a person or situation.

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