Bite the Dust

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Meaning of Idiom 'Bite the Dust'

To bite the dust is to be defeated or killed, especially in battle; to be successful; to be eliminated or to cease existing. 1,2


"When the company bit the dust, the employees lost everything while the owners walked away with a fortune."

"The hero bites the dust at the end of the book in an anticlimactic finish."


This expression was popularized in movies about the old west or 'Westerns,' where cowboys or Indians were shot or were thrown from their horse to land on the dusty ground thus "biting" the dust. The phrase was seen as early as 1750, however, in Tobias Smollett's Gil Blass:

"We made two of them bite the dust." 1

The idiom was also popular in 19th-century adventure stories. 2

However, a similar phrase is found in the Bible, Plasm 72:9:

"They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust."

1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.

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