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"Bite the Bullet"

Posted by David FG on July 02, 2006

In Reply to: "Bite the Bullet" posted by Michael S Southworth on July 02, 2006

: Regarding the English phrase, "Bite the Bullet", I question the Wikipedia origin of this phrase. It seems more likely that this phrase came from the English as a result of the Sepoy Rebellion in India in 1857. The firing procedure for the Enfield Rifle, which the British issued to trained indigineous Muslim and Hindu warriors the Sepoys, required them to bite off the end of the cartridge with one hand, pour the powder into the gun barrel, before ramming, loading and firing the gun. The cartridge was greased with lard, (pork and beef fat), which the Sepoys had been biting for years. They mutinied as the soldiers were culturally prohibited from ingesting pork and beef and this was a major factor in the Sepoy Rebellion against British rule where many thousands died and the British were routed from the region. The English military brass were extremely intolerant of the Sepoy's rebellion, and the Commander in Chief in India, General George Anson reacted saying, "I'll neve!
: r give in to their beastly predjudices." If spoken by the British to the Sepoys, "Bite the Bullet" would carry the same meaning, to stop complaining, but in a much more believable context. This predates your published meaning/origin for this phrase, please let me know if there is any merit to this as an alternate meaning/origin.

It strikes me that the phrase 'bite the bullet' is used in a more or less 'friendly' context: 'you will have to bite the bullet, old man' or 'I suppose I will just have to bite the bullet'. I have never heard it used as an order, or in a peremptory sense: 'shut up and bite the bullet', for example, which I would expect if your origin were correct.

It is, of course, possible that its sense has changed over the years but certainly to my mind its use tends to support the traditional origin for the phrase.


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