"Biting the big one"

Paul Johnston paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Mon Oct 6 17:04:06 UTC 2008

Wilson, in 1960's college and high school slang, "bites the big
one" (and "bites") was still used in the sense you described as used
in the military (but we COULD use it in the past tense: "That test
bit the big one.").  We elaborated on it too:  "Working at McDonald's
bites dead worms/dead frogs."   I started hearing the present sense
in the late '80s.

Paul Johnston

On Oct 6, 2008, at 11:06 AM, Wilson Gray wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      "Biting the big one"
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> 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.
> -Wilson
> --
> 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
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