What Does the Expression “Bite the Dust” Mean and Where Did the Idiom Come From?

We have probably all heard “bite the dust” for the first time while watching an old western B movie when a cowboy hero does away with a pesky varmint to impress the schoolmarm.

The phrase was first used in English literature in 1750 to imply wounding or killing by satirical novelist Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) in Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, his translation of the original French novel by Alain-Rene Lesage: “We made two of them bite the dust and the others betake themselves to flight.”

The inspiration for the expression can be traced back to the Bible in Psalm 72: “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him and his enemies shall lick the dust.”

The word caucus, a closed meeting of a political party to decide on policy, comes from the Algonquin word caucauasu, which means “counsellor”.

The word toboggan is from the French Canadian tabagane, which is a translation of the Algonquin tobakun, meaning “sled”.

The word winnebago has the same aboriginal meaning as Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, and that both mean “dirty water.

The phrase “down the hatch” is a sailor’s drinking expression and refers to freight disappearing in volume through the hatch leading to the storage area below a ship’s deck.

The word queue is the only English word that is pronounced the same with or without its last four letters.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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