Contemporary slang bites the big one

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat May 13 21:58:47 UTC 2006

On 5/13/06, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
> On 5/13/06, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> > Then I thought, "Hold the phone! Let's see what HDAS says." Well, HDAS's
> > earliest cite is from only 1977, giving plenty of time for various shifts from the
> > military meaning. But, even that cite pretty much still coincides with the
> > military meaning. Nevertheless, even HDAS has only a single example of
> > this phrase used in the past and, even there, it has the meaning of "died,"
> > with a date of 1988.
> There's also a cite from 1985 (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, "You
> don't suppose he bit the big one, do you?"). "Bite the big one" =
> 'die' is completely unremarkable slang for me (grew up in NJ, 70s-80s)
> -- in fact, when I first saw the subject line, I wondered, "Why does
> Wilson think contemporary slang is dead?"

Now that I think about it, I also have "bite the big one" = "be
objectionable", equivalent to "bite", "suck", "blow", etc.  And
interestingly enough it also works in the past tense for me, even
though plain "bite" doesn't:

   That really stunk/sucked/blew.
   That really bit the big one.
  *That really bit.

"Rot" doesn't work in the past tense either...

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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