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The expression to bite (on) the bullet way to face a painful situation with fortitude.

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It originated in the exercise consisting, for a soldier, in biting top top a bullet when being flogged. The English antiquary and lexicographer Francis Grose (1731-91), who had actually been a soldier, mentioned it in A classic Dictionary that the Vulgar Tongue (2nd execution – London, 1788):


Nightingale. A soldier who, as the hatchet is, sings the end at the halberts. It is a suggest of honour in some regiments, among the grenadiers, never ever to cry out, or end up being nightingales, whilst under the discipline of the cat of ripe tails; to avoid which, lock chew a bullet.

In the very same edition of the dictionary, Grose defined the manner in which halberds were offered in corporal punishments:

Spread Eagle. A soldier tied to the halberts in bespeak to be whipped: his mindset bearing some likeness to that figure, together painted on signs.

I have discovered several mentions native the second half of the 19th century the the practice of biting top top a bullet once being flogged. Because that instance, this is indigenous The Fife Herald (Cupar, Fife, Scotland) of 31st January 1867:

THE approach OF FLOGGING. (From the Lancet.) the is really interesting to note the impacts of the application of the cat. Last week, two garotters obtained at Leeds Gaol a couple of dozen lashes a-piece, and those who have actually read the accounts have actually doubtless been surprised in ~ the supposedly slight effects created upon the skin. The lashes that the cat were almost a garden long, and at the extremity of each were three hard knots. <…> We space anxious to point out that the results apparent to the naked eye space a not sufficient guage that the intensity of the punishment, or of the transforms produced in the organization of the body. <…> over there is spasm the the entirety muscles that the back, specifically the deep ones. Once a man is about to get a blow, he puts self on his guard and also his muscles also; he tree his foot firmly and contracts his whole muscular system. In operations, prior to the blessings of chloroform to be known, the patient around to be operated on grasped v a death-like grip the table whereon he to be placed; and the very same sort of condition was to plan to be brought around by the biting that the bullet inserted in the mouth of the soldier around to flogged. In every these instances the muscle are put on their guard, and, being elastic, a good deal of injury can be inflicted without wise harm.

Likewise, on 2nd November 1890, The Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) published Soldiers’ Punishment, around “the dreaded cat-o’-nine tails in the british army”:

“It’s considered bad kind to groan or cry out once under the cat,” said a Sergeant of the Connaught Rangers, “and you rarely hear a soldier hollering, an especially an Irishman. The negative fellow place a bullet in between his teeth and takes a firm tight of it, and also this help him to store his mouth shut. Periodically a male bites through and through the bullet in his pain, and also I’ve seen some of them spit it the end all chewed to command dust as soon as the flogging was over. Without the cartridge a man is likely to bite his tongue off, together I saw happen once in China, once the man at the finish of the flogging turned and grinned at the Colonel with his bleeding tongue in between his teeth—a disgusting sight.

The earliest well-known user that the phrase was the brother novelist, short-story writer and also poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) in The Light that Failed, published in instalments in several papers in 1890; because that example, top top 14th December of the year, The Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) had:

“My God! ns blind! i’m blind, and the darkness will never ever go away.” that made as if to leap indigenous the bed, however Torpenhow’s arms to be round him, and Torpenhow’s chin was on his shoulder, and his breath was squeezed the end of him. He can only gasp, “Blind!” and wriggle feebly. “Steady, Dickie, steady!” claimed the deep voice in his ear, and the tight tightened. “Bite on the bullet, old man, and also don’t permit them think you afraid.”

The Yorkshire Post and also Leeds Mercury (Leeds, Yorkshire) the 7th July 1954 published France likes the look at of her brand-new Prime Minister, in i m sorry Brian Beedham cleverly expanded the phrase once evoking “the familiar spectre of the europe Defence Community”—Pierre Mendès-France (1907-82) to be the brand-new Prime Minister and also Jean Michel Guérin du Boscq de Beaumont (1896-1955) his Secretary the State in ~ the international Office:

If the prophets are best in saying the EDC as it exists at the moment is doomed, then the finish is likely to come not v the bang the a houses of parliament vote but in a fading whimper that interminable argument. Two camps ~ above EDC The pendant of a european Army, however, have not lost all hope. That is significant that M. Guérin de Beaumont self is in your camp, and also the Cabinet are divided virtually exactly in 2 on the subject. At the moment the leader of the two factions room meeting in an effort to agree on conditions which would enable France come speak v a joined voice. If they it seems ~ to have a modest opportunity of success (it deserve to be placed no higher than that) it is for 2 reasons. The very first is the change of emphasis that has occurred during the last year in French objections come EDC. That is no much longer the idea of putting rifles into German hands that chiefly arouses a Frenchman’s anger: what the dislikes many is the truth that EDC would certainly tie increase French troops which he would choose to usage in policing the trouble-areas that the French Union. The second is the fact that if M. Mendès-France succeeds in bringing come an end the seven-year-old battle in Indo-China, fewer troops will be essential for such oversea work. If this happens it is just possible that Frenchmen may be willing to sloop down the remainder of your objections and bite the european bullet.

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No evidence supports the oft-repeated tale that the phrase to bite (on) the bullet originated in the previous practice of offering a wounded soldier a bullet to bite on once undergoing surgery without anaesthetic.