Origin of saying "he bit the dust"

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Just a trivial fact for your consideration:

We've all used the saying, "it bit the dust" to describe something ending abruptly. Like a lot of sayings, the chances are good that you used it reflexively without knowing where it came from or exactly what it means.

If you read Homer's Illiad you soon figure it out. The Illiad uses a lot of poetic stock phrases, like "Rosy-fingered dawn" and "grey-eyed Athena". These phrases were chosen on the basis of their beauty and effectiveness, not to mention that they fit the metre of the poem, are easy to remember and can help the reciter fill out a line to the proper meter.

"Bit the dust" is another of these Homeric stock phrases. Put into its proper setting, it becomes frighteningly appropriate.

Homer uses it when he is describing a soldier falling on the field of battle, grievously wounded with perhaps a severed arm or leg. As his life's blood pumps out of him, in the final agony the soldier is described as "biting the dust". Literally. With his teeth. Like an animal mad with pain.

So, next time you say, "that project bit the dust", give a moment of prayerful thought to the keen pathos summed up in that phrase, once upon a time.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), July 27, 2000


Cool, Brian. I have wondered at times where such phrases came from. Maybe this thread can be used to identify some of the more popular (or obscure) ones and their origins. Do you happen to know where "bought the farm" came from?

(Off to do some research [g].)

-- Patricia (PatriciaS@lasvegas.com), July 27, 2000.


That is an interesting canard. Here is the real story. The expression did not start with Homer; it started with a homey. Its origin is ebonics; the original expression was "booty dissed", referring to the tendency of some African-American men to call their their female companions "ho" and "bitch". White-bread academics, not understanding the dialect, invented an elaborate explanation involving Homer and dust.

-- (nemesis@awol.com), July 27, 2000.

Bedlam. Originally "Bethlehem," where the first mental institute was located.

Son of a gun. Women birthing on ships were sometimes placed near the cannon, which was then fired to give a "shock boost" to delivery.

-- viewer (justp@ssing.by), July 27, 2000.

As it happens, the phrase 'The whole nine yards' has nothing to do with the amount of cloth needed for a suit. In fact, it was the length of the strip of gun ammo loaded into WWII fighter planes. When they came back empty, crews would remark that they had given them 'the whole nine yards'.

-- LunaC (Contribution@Fun.com), July 27, 2000.

"Who in the name of Sam Hill... (do you think you are, etc.etc.)

So, who was Sam Hill? Anbody know?

Sam, I beieve, was a wealthy industralist who build railroads in the early west and hob-nobbed with the rich and famous, kings and queens. A museum stands today in the eastern Columbia River Gorge that was once the summer mansion for his wife, when she came out from back east to visit. It is the first structure of its size to use re-enforced concreate. Sam Hill also erected a monument to the fallen soilders of wwI. It is a real life recreation of Stonehenge. Located a short distance from the mansion, it is alined with the moon and stars and equinox, etc.

Also, Sam Hill was most educated, and could hold his own at any spelling-bee, unlike myself...

-- none (from WA@gorge.com), July 27, 2000.

Patricia, I believe "buying the farm" had its origins in the early days of pilots, not all of whom were skilled enough to miss the broad side of a barn. When one of them managed to plow his plane right into a barn or farmhouse, the farm owner would take the attitude of "you broke it, you bought it." Unfortunately, often the pilot was in no condition to consummate the deal, bring either scattered over several acres of the back forty or imbedded in the pig waller.

I think that's about it. Makes a good story, regardless.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), July 27, 2000.

OK. Here's another. Not so long ago I was in a meeting and I said that something-or-other was "not in my bailiwick". Afterwards, the guy who runs that meeting asked me, "so, what is a bailiwick, anyway?"

I looked it up. Turns out that a bailiwick is the domain or jurisdiction of a bailiff. In medieval times in England a bailiff was an employee of the sheriff, an underling more or less, who had a smaller area of responsibility than the sheriff did.

Comparatively speaking, the sheriff was big heat. The bailiff, by contrast, was the end of the line in terms of civil authority, starting from the king and working on down. The smallest potato in the sack,so to speak. But in his bailiwick, he was somebody with authority.

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), July 27, 2000.

I think I read somewhere that "buying the farm" referred to unlucky WW2 GIs whose govt life insurance would go to their kin. Often used to payoff the mortgage.

Anybody read "Citizen Soldiers" by Steven Ambrose? Just astounding. And humbling.

-- (grateful@fortheir.sacrifice), July 27, 2000.

Brian is right-on.


-- Lars (lars@indy.net), July 27, 2000.

A more general link--


-- Lars (lars@indy.net), July 27, 2000.

Gee my personal favorite is one from high school spanish class. The teacher related a story of an exchange student from Hermosillo who had been relocated here. Her sister student was late coming home from an afterschool activity, and anxious to get on to the next activity. When she came home hungry, she said to her mom "please make me a sandwich and step on it". The Hermosillo student was totaly puzzled, as to what it would be necessary to step on a sandwich. Need I say more? But for those seek answers I offersomething more factual, as requested:


There are many origins of this specific idiom. You may be familiar with the tea party in Lewis Carroll's book "Alice in Wonderland", in which there was a person who was crazy and wore a hat. There are two possible origins of this phrase, both from the early 1800's. One origin was from a snake called an adder. If you were bitten by this snake, people thought you would go insane. Another origin may be from people who worked in felt factories making hats and inhaled fumes which made them twitch, and jumble their speech, and they became confused. They were thought to be mad and so the expression: MAD AS A HATTER. Gee, recognize any one here?

-- Aunt Bee (Aunt__Bee@hotmail.com), July 28, 2000.


I remember hearing something about how mercury was used in the manufacture of hats and so hatters went bonkers from mercury poisoning. Haven't a clue why mercury was used in hat manufacturing,

Did you ever explain a "slumped" house at Bok's? I missed it. Sounds dangerous.

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), July 28, 2000.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST--by Queen, written by John Deacon

Steve walks warily down the street

With his brim pulled way down low

Ain't no sound but the sound of his feet

Machine guns ready to go

Are you ready hey are you ready for this?

Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?

Out of the doorway the bullets rip

To the sound of the beat yeah


Another one bites the dust Another one bites the dust

And another one gone and another one gone

Another one bites the dust

Hey I'm gonna get you too

Another one bites the dust

How do you think I'm going to get along Without you when you're gone You took me for everything that I had

And kicked me out on my own

Are you happy are you satisfied?

How long can you stand the heat

Out of the doorway the bullets rip

To the sound of the beat look out


Oh take it - Bite the dust bite the dust

Hey Another one bites the dust Another one bites the dust ow

Another one bites the dust he he

Another one bites the dust haaaa

Ooh shoot out

There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man

And bring him to the ground

You can beat him

You can cheat him

You can treat him bad and leave him

When he's down

But I'm ready yes I'm ready for you

I'm standing on my own two feet

Out of the doorway the bullets rip

Repeating to the sound of the beat

Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

And another one gone and another one gone Another one bites the dust yeah Hey I'm gonna get you too

Another one bites the dust Shoot out

-- (nemesis@awol.com), July 29, 2000.

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