Two Common Sayings beginning with B

This entry is part 2 of the series Common Sayings

Each Monday, I’m posting on my blog about a phrase or common saying, what they mean and how they came about Sometimes there will be only one saying, while other times there may be more. I won’t in any way cover all the possibilities as I’d like to complete the series in this lifetime. But it should be fun. Join me?

I intend working through the alphabet, so sign up at the end of the post so you don’t forget to visit me each Monday and perhaps participate by adding suggestions.

So today we look at B.

B is for Bite the Bullet, and Bring Home the Bacon.

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“Bite the Bullet”

Meaning of this common saying: When we carry out another person’s wishes, or get on with a task we really don’t want to do but someone has to do it, we “bite the bullet.”

Where did this come from? This phrase is commonly thought to have originated when soldiers had to bite on bullets during surgery on the battlefield when there was no anesthetic available.  However, there is little record of this grisly suggestion. Traditionally, the soldiers had to bite on a leather belt or a piece of wood. The history of the phrase actually goes back further.

Francis Grose in  A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, (1796) defines the word “nightingale” as

“a soldier who, as the term is, sings out at the halberts. It is a point of honour in some regiments, among the grenadiers, never to cry out, or become nightingales, whilst under the discipline of the cat of nine tails; to avoid which, they chew a bullet.”

The Kindle version of this book is currently available free on at this link.

A less-likely source is believed to be from the history of the British Empire.

In 1987, there was an Indian Mutiny. Bullets in those days were held in the cartridge of the gun by grease made of either cow or pork fat. Before the gun could be fired, the two parts had to be bitten apart, and gunpowder packed into the base.

Low-ranking Hindu soldiers, known as Sepoys, for whom cows were sacred animals, were often given the task of biting through the cartridges.  In other words, they were forced, against their will, to bite the bullet.


“Bring home the bacon”

Meaning of this common saying: To “bring home the bacon” means to earn money, particularly for one’s family, or to be successful, particularly in the area of finances.

Where did this come from? In 1104, a couple living in Dunmow in Essex, impressed the Prior with their marital devotion to such a degree that he awarded them a side (or flitch) of bacon as a reward. This tradition still continues every four years in Great Dunmow, Essex.

In The Wife of Bath’s Tale and Prologue (approx 1395), Geoffrey Chaucer refers to this custom when he says,

But never for us the flitch of bacon though,
That some may win in Essex at Dunmow.

Bacon of course relates to meat carved from the back and sides of a pig. It is dried, salted, and usually smoked and makes for a wonderful traditional English breakfast when fried with eggs and other items such as mushrooms and tomatoes. Yes to any American readers. The English (and South Africans) love fried tomatoes with their breakfast.

For those of you who enjoy Garfield, there is a book that looks fun called Garfield Brings Home the Bacon. I haven’t read it, but the Garfield cartoons are usually good for a laugh.

Over to You

  • Do you enjoy Garfield?
  • How often do you have bacon and egg for breakfast? Do you eat cooked tomatoes with it or with other meals?
  • Are there any other phrases beginning with a B that intrigue you? Please type them into a comment box below.

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16 comments on “Two Common Sayings beginning with B

  1. Ahhh…Nice to have caught this…it’s an interesting idea…I guessed the meaning of ‘bring home the bacon ‘ correctly before I read it…lovely read

  2. Those were some interesting stories about the sayings and I am interested to know more such stories. Subscribed to your blog for staying updated when you post next in this series.

  3. Bacon and eggs I love .But have them only during holidays occasionally .I like Garfield too 😊

  4. Very interesting series, Shirley. I am following your blog with this one for sure. Looking forward t the forthcoming ones. 🙂

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