Bite your tongue
Posted by Baceseras on September 25, 2007
In Reply to: Bite your tongue posted by Smokey Stover on September 25, 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.
Yes, those after-the-fact uses of "bite your tongue" are interesting. Often in such cases the phrase is spoken quickly, as if to overtake the offending speech and warn the speaker off before he says what he has in fact already said. This is a playful interpretation. A more sober one would be that perhaps the warning is to be taken to heart "if in future" the speaker is tempted to mis-speak again. As when one says in rebuke, "Cover your mouth," after someone has already coughed openly: the advice is too late to be useful now, but may come in handy to prevent repeat offenses.