Contemporary slang bites the big one

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 15 03:28:02 UTC 2006

Ben, if you have no problem using the the phrase, "bit the big one," in
other than its literal meaning, I'm down with that. It doesn't work for me
because the phrase, "bites the big one," occurs only in the present tense
and it does so because it has a slang meaning that's possible only in the
present tense.

"Burn-bag detail bit the big one yesterday, but it didn't bite the big one
the day before yesterday, it's not biting the big one today, and it won't
bite the big one tomorrow, though, of course, it may again bite the big
one, upon occasion. Whether burn-bag detail bites the big one is very nearly
unknowable, pending the completion of a given day's burn-bag detail."
Replace "burn-bag detail" with "dismounted drill" or "guard duty" or "a
twenty-mile hike with full field pack and under water-conservation rules."

As water is wet, so also do these things bite the big one.

It may be the case that tense is governed by the subject. Is it the case
that reality bites only from time to time? Or is it the case
that biting is inherent in reality? Consider also the case of
"life" and "sucks" in, "Life sucks and then you die"?

However, I am a speaker of English. So, "When I was in the
Army, it sucked and I had to do a lot of shit that _bit_ the big one," is
certainly a sentence that I find fully grammatical. But I still think that
my niece should have written, "Our main computer bit _the dust_." ;-)


On 5/14/06, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Contemporary slang bites the big one
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On 5/14/06, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> > On 5/14/06, Mark A. Mandel <mamandel at> wrote:
> > > Benjamin Zimmer:
> > > >>  *That really bit.
> > >
> > > Jesse:
> > > > This is non-asterisked in my idiolect.
> > >
> > > Ditto for me.
> >
> > "You ain't said shit!"
> >
> > "You sayin' a tas'e (i.e., taste)!"
> >
> > Both of which mean, for no reason that I've ever been able to fathom,
> >
> > "I am in complete agreement with what you have to say." In this case, I
> > agree with Jon and Mark.
> OK, if you can have "bite" = 'be objectionable' in the past tense,
> then why not "bite the big one"? At the top of the thread you said you
> had only encountered it in the present tense.
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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