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Biting

March 17, 2024

Given that eating is part of the life experience, most of us have been given to biting some part of most every day we have ever lived. It is not eating that brings biting to the forefront of our attention in most cases.

I suspect unless you include your tongue or cheek or lip in any part of your meal, biting is pretty much an auto-pilot function like inhaling. Or exhaling.

Done other than when eating, biting is generally frowned on. Not tolerated in children. Or pets. It is antisocial. And it hurts. We remember it. As the saying goes, ‘Once bitten, twice shy’, meaning we don’t forget the pain of bites, physical or metaphorical.

Biting informs many metaphors. Biting wit, for example. Sarcasm. Sardonic wit stings. Not like sticks and stones, of course, but sometimes words really do hurt. Biting wit often has that pain as its intention. Perception depends on where you are standing when biting wit is in flight. If it is coming in your direction, it is often unpleasant. If it is simply in your presence, sometimes it is enjoyable. Funny.

Aggressive small dogs and small children have given rise to the term ‘ankle biters’. Small dogs and children have limited reach. Their ‘bites’ are mostly a nuisance in that they can do no real harm, but it almost always hurts to get bitten so ankle biters are not quite harmless. Petty adults are often also called ankle biters because they ‘nip’ at small things.

Back biters are people who say mean or spiteful things about a person (usually someone who is not present) according to a definition by Merriam-Webster online. The pain is the intent.

Some people bite their nails. Literally. The term ‘nail biter’ has also come to refer to someone constantly stressing about something. A nail biter also can mean a movie, sports event, etc. that is not decided or resolved until the very last second. Keeping everyone guessing.

The phrase ‘Bite the bullet” has many possible origins. It essentially means “decide to do something difficult or unpleasant that one has been putting off or hesitating over” according to the Oxford Languages website.

If you “speak to someone in a quick, angry way, for no good reason”, you are said to ‘bite their head off’ as defined by the Cambridge dictionary.

Biting the dust is something to be avoided at all costs as it means dying.

Biting the hand that feeds you is a most ungracious action. It means ‘to do something bad to someone who has been good to you and whose help you need’ according to MacmilanDictionary.com.

Biting can refer to responding to an invitation or challenge, especially a fraudulent one. People who take on more than they can accomplish are said to “bite off more than they can chew.” A bad or unpleasant experience is said to ‘bite.’

Biting your tongue may be the one kind of biting that can actually reflect well on you. It can work out well for you. It means keeping your own counsel. Applying the WHEN to the HOW of shutting up. Being a parent, I find I have to do this often. Same with being a husband and I’m sure my wife feels the same way about me (even while biting her tongue). Biting your tongue may hurt, but that hurt is small in the shadow of the hurt that can be inflicted by failing to do so. I had an interesting experience where it really paid off for me.

Early in the pandemic, I was quite faithful about wearing a mask in public. It truly was in consideration of others, and particularly for my wife. She is more susceptible to things in the air. Early in the pandemic, I was still working on a self-righteousness issue. What I was doing was right. Anyone not doing as I did was not. I was not militant but I did tote a sizable chip on my shoulder in the presence of those who chose to ignore the small consideration of masking. The chip was noticeable but unaccompanied by harsh words. Attitude without words, and behind a mask, is a little difficult to detect most times. And I was in a gift shop in Tionesta (it is now Pizza Joe’s) making a purchase. And the guy behind me checking out was not wearing a mask. I had an attitude but I bit my tongue. I paid for my purchase and left.

As I was driving up the dam hill on the way home, a driver was tailgating me. This is also something I dislike but I ignored him. I was not going to go faster and I was not going to succumb to some raging act. And the guy pulled into the passing lane and drove side-by-side with me for a bit. That got my attention. I looked over to see him holding a wallet. My wallet, as it happens. I had left it on the counter in the store. In the store where I had bitten my tongue at the affront of this very person returning my wallet.

There was certainly a lesson here. I had made some hasty judgments about this guy back at the store. Hasty. And flawed. Fortunately for me, I did not give voice to those judgments. My experience would have been a lot different if I had not bitten my tongue. I’m sure an unbitten tongue would have left a bitter aftertaste for which I would have had no one to blame but myself. Instead, I suffered a bitten tongue. Silent agitation. The reward was a recovered wallet and a refreshed perspective on actions and consequences.

There are lessons to be found in most experiences in life. Some come in the aftermath of thoughtless words or actions. Licking wounds caused by failure to bite tongues. This time I bit my tongue and reaped a huge reward. I won’t forget the lesson.

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