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Bite your tongue

Posted by Smokey Stover on September 25, 2007

In Reply to: Bite your tongue posted by Vicotria S Dennis on September 24, 2007

: : I hear all the time the phrase "Bite your tongue," meaning to hush your mouth. I'm thinking that that is a mutation of the original phrase, "Bide your tongue," meaning hold back your tongue, lest you say something you will regret.

: : What is the correct phrase and where did it come from?

: You bite your tongue to hold it still and stop it saying something you may regret; it's an obvious figure of speech. "Bide your tongue" doesn't sound remotely likely to me, because "bide" is not a transitive verb and has never meant "hold [something] back"; it is an intransitive verb meaning "wait, stay, remain, endure". (VSD)

The OED uses an example from Shakespeare: "1593 -- 2 Hen. VI, I. i. 230 So Yorke must sit, and fret, and bite his tongue."

I have a question about this expression. Is it not sometimes heard, at least in fiction, AFTER an unwanted utterance, with someone saying, in reproof, "Bite your tongue!" It the haarmful words have already been uttered, it seems as though that phrase, if it means, "Keep silent!", is far too late. Hence biting your tongue would hint at self-punishment. Obviously, it can't mean that literally, anymore than "bite my ass" is to be taken literally. But it makes sense to me to think of a post-utterance "Bite your tongue!" as being a way of saying "Shame on you, talking fool!" Just a thought.