verb (used with object), bit, bit·ten or bit, bit·ing.

verb (used without object), bit, bit·ten or bit, bit·ing.



    bite off more than one can chew, to attempt something that exceeds one's capacity: In trying to build a house by himself, he bit off more than he could chew.
    bite/snap someone's head off, to respond with anger or impatience to someone's question or comment: He'll bite your head off if you ask for anything.
    bite the bullet. bullet(def 7).
    bite the dust. dust(def 21).
    bite the hand that feeds one, to repay kindness with malice or injury: When he berates his boss, he is biting the hand that feeds him.
    put the bite on, Slang.
    1. to solicit or attempt to borrow money or something of value from.
    2. to press for money, as in extortion: They found out about his prison record and began to put the bite on him.

Origin of bite

before 1000; Middle English biten, Old English bītan; cognate with Old High German bīzan (German beissen), Gothic beitan, Old Norse bīta; akin to Latin findere to split
Related formsbit·a·ble, bite·a·ble, adjective
Can be confusedbight bite byte

Synonyms for bite Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for bite off more than one can chew

overdo, slave

British Dictionary definitions for bite off more than one can chew


verb bites, biting, bit or bitten

to grip, cut off, or tear with or as if with the teeth or jaws
(of animals, insects, etc) to injure by puncturing or tearing (the skin or flesh) with the teeth, fangs, etc, esp as a natural characteristic
(tr) to cut or penetrate, as with a knife
(of corrosive material such as acid) to eat away or into
to smart or cause to smart; stingmustard bites the tongue
(intr) angling (of a fish) to take or attempt to take the bait or lure
to take firm hold of or act effectively upon
to grip or hold (a workpiece) with a tool or chuck
(of a screw, thread, etc) to cut into or grip (an object, material, etc)
(tr) informal to annoy or worrywhat's biting her?
(often passive) slang to cheat
(tr often foll by for) Australian and NZ slang to ask (for); scrounge from
bite off more than one can chew informal to attempt a task beyond one's capability
bite the bullet to face up to (pain, trouble, etc) with fortitude; be stoical
bite someone's head off to respond harshly and rudely (to)
bite the dust See dust (def. 11)
bite the hand that feeds one to repay kindness with injury or ingratitude
once bitten, twice shy after an unpleasant experience one is cautious in similar situations
put the bite on someone Australian slang to ask someone for money


the act of biting
a thing or amount bitten off
a wound, bruise, or sting inflicted by biting
angling an attempt by a fish to take the bait or lure
informal an incisive or penetrating effect or qualitythat's a question with a bite
a light meal; snack
a cutting, stinging, or smarting sensation
the depth of cut of a machine tool
the grip or hold applied by a tool or chuck to a workpiece
dentistry the angle or manner of contact between the upper and lower teeth when the mouth is closed naturally
the surface of a file or rasp with cutting teeth
the corrosive action of acid, as on a metal etching plate
Derived Formsbiter, noun

Word Origin for bite

Old English bītan; related to Latin findere to split, Sanskrit bhedati he splits
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bite off more than one can chew



Old English bitan (class I strong verb; past tense bat, past participle biten), from Proto-Germanic *bitan (cf. Old Saxon bitan, Old Norse and Old Frisian bita, Middle Dutch biten, Dutch bijten, German beissen, Gothic beitan "to bite"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split, crack" (see fissure).

To bite the bullet is said to be 1700s military slang, from old medical custom of having the patient bite a lead bullet during an operation to divert attention from pain and reduce screaming. Figurative use from 1891; the custom itself attested from 1840s. To bite (one's) tongue "refrain from speaking" is 1590s. To bite the dust "die" is 1750 (Latin had the same image; cf. Virgil: procubuit moriens et humum semel ore momordit). To bite off more than one can chew (c.1880) is U.S. slang, from plug tobacco.



c.1200, from bite (v).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

bite off more than one can chew in Medicine




To cut, grip, or tear with the teeth.
To pierce the skin of with the teeth, fangs, or mouthparts.


The act of biting.
A puncture or laceration of the skin by the teeth of an animal or the mouthparts of an insect or similar organism.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with bite off more than one can chew

bite off more than one can chew

Take on more work or a bigger task than one can handle, as in With two additional jobs, Bill is clearly biting off more than he can chew. Cautions against taking on too much appear in medieval sources, although this particular metaphor, alluding to taking in more food than one can chew, dates only from about 1870.


In addition to the idioms beginning with bite

  • bite off more than one can chew
  • bite one's nails
  • bite one's tongue
  • bite someone's head off
  • bite the bullet
  • bite the dust
  • bite the hand that feeds you

also see:

  • bark is worse than one's bite
  • put the bite on
  • sound bite

Also seebitten.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.