"Biting the big one"

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Oct 6 16:52:41 UTC 2008

HDAS has "bite the big one" as student slang ("esp. juvenile", early cites mainly from student sources), with citations from 1977. I never particularly associated the phrase with the military. (I served in the '80s.) That's not to say, of course, that the term wasn't in earlier use in the military.

And I don't think that it has come to mean specifically to die. It still means a very unfortunate occurrence. In some contexts this could involve death, but not necessarily so.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Wilson Gray
Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 8:07 AM
Subject: "Biting the big one"

Heard on a re-run of The Simpsons:

"... where [the character] Martin [Prince] _bit the big one_."

According to the story line, Martin is dead. Hence, "... where Martin
_bit the big one_" clearly means ".. where Martin _died_."

Some may recall that, a while back, I posted about misunderstanding an
email from a niece in which she stated that "... our small computer
_bit the big one_."

In what sense did the small computer bite the big computer? Damned if
I could figure it out. Then, I recalled an old bit of Army slang that
I probably hadn't heard in around half a century: "That bites the big
one!" But there were some problems: 1) the phrase was never used in
the past tense; 2) "That" was always some abstraction, not anything
that, even in a cartoon, could be portrayed as biting anything; 3)
"bites" was understood to mean the consequence of having "the big one"
shoved into one's mouth, i.e. "forced to suck" and not literally to
"bite"; 4) "the big one" was understood to be The Green Wienie, the
metaphorical penis of the U.S. Army.

The phrase's meaning was understood to be something like, "An
undesirable situation has arisen over which one has no control."

But, of course, that still didn't clarify the niece's meaning for me.

OTOH, if I had kept up with all the episodes of The Simpsons, I might
have understood that, on civvy street, "bite the big one" means "die"
and is not the same as the old military "That," e.g. be unexpectedly
assigned to guard duty - a Navy-style detail: four hours on, four
hours off, over a period of 24 hours - during the middle 24 hours of
what had been a three-day pass, "bites the big one!"

As a WAG, perhaps the phrase wasn't used in the past because, once one
had taken the meat, taken gas, taken ass, complaining about later it
was pointless. There was always more than enough in the present to
complain about. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

A [reading duty roster]: WTF?! "I've got guard duty! There goes my
three-day pass!'

B.: "Yeah. That bites the big one!"

Would the next move be to pull a Farley?

A. "Hey, you remember that time when I had a three-day pass, but then
I got guard duty?"

B. "Yeah. That bit the big one." "No. But it must have bitten the big one."

Sounds unlikely.

B would be more likely to say: "Yeah. What about it?"

Yet, it seems to me that "bites" in phrases like, "Reality bites!" is
ultimately derived from the military phrase. I don't feel much
difference between "Reality bites" and "Reality," e.g. guard duty,
"bites the big one," Well, "Reality bites!" probably is meant to
describe the expected, whereas "That bites the big one!" was a
reaction to the unexpected. "The Army sucks" is probably closer to
"Reality bites" in meaning.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list