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What Does "Bite Your Tongue" Mean?

"Bite your tongue" is an idiomatic expression urging someone to refrain from speaking, typically to avoid saying something harmful or inappropriate. It's a reminder of self-control in conversations, where silence can be golden. Ever held back a comment and later felt relieved? Share your experiences with us as we explore the power of words left unsaid.
Nicole Long
Nicole Long

When the urge hits to say something that shouldn’t be said, a person often demonstrates restraint. This is known as biting your tongue, and is an example of an idiom. The term “bite your tongue” can apply to personal, social, and business relationships, and often is done out of kindness and respect for the other person or persons.

“Bite your tongue” is an expression of speech known as an idiom. Idioms are expressions that takes on a figurative meaning and do not literally translate. In this example, “bite your tongue” doesn’t mean to literally bite your tongue. The saying represents a well-understood concept of showing restraint when it comes to speaking.

A tongue.
A tongue.

Some of the driving forces behind the saying are commonly attributed to being polite and kind when dealing with difficult situations. Individuals bite their tongue to help protect the feelings of others and spare them the pain that can sometimes come along with an honest answer. In other situations, biting the tongue can be the result of a compromise.

The way an individual processes anger can affect their ability to bite their tongue.
The way an individual processes anger can affect their ability to bite their tongue.

During personal situations, individuals often bite their tongue to keep the peace and maintain harmony in a relationship. Couples may practice the concept of biting the tongue when asked questions related to how well clothes or a new haircut look. Biting the tongue in situations related to particularly delicate situations, such as looks and weight, may be the best option.

Social settings offer a variety of complex situations where the expression “bite your tongue” can be observed. For instance, the unfortunate luck of one individual, such as falling, may be enough to provoke laughter. Biting the tongue in this type of situation can spare the person continued embarrassment and demonstrate kindness.

Business settings provide an opportunity to exercise the concept of the expression. Often in a business setting, biting the tongue is necessary to maintain good relationships and good rapport with a team, department, and company as a whole. Individuals may bite their tongue when they have disagreements with the boss and want to challenge ideas brought forth.

The way an individual processes emotion and anger can affect their ability to bite their tongue when necessary. When responding to a personal attack or defending family and friends, individuals with anger issues may have a more difficult time controlling what they say due to the high level of emotion involved in the situation. In contrast, those in solid control of their emotions and anger levels can effectively bite their tongue when needed.

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Discussion Comments


One time my boss came into the office with his new girlfriend. She was at least half his age, if not younger. He had also dyed his hair, and it was pretty obvious to the rest of us. I knew I had to bite my tongue, because he was not somebody who enjoyed being disrespected by his employees. I smiled and introduced myself to her, then made an excuse to leave the room. I knew I would do something stupid if I didn't get out of there soon.

Everybody in the room must have been thinking the same thing, because as soon as they left, we all started laughing and crying. One of my co-workers said he almost bit his tongue off trying to keep a straight face.


I can think of numerous times when I've had to bite my tongue. I wish people wouldn't ask me for my honest opinion if they're not really prepared to hear it. I have sat through some horrible recitals and school plays and all those things, and my wife still has to remind me to bite my tongue and just say something harmless like "Oh, you must have worked so hard on that piece" or "I really thought your costumes were great!".

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    • A tongue.
      By: Adrian Costea
      A tongue.
    • The way an individual processes anger can affect their ability to bite their tongue.
      By: gstockstudio
      The way an individual processes anger can affect their ability to bite their tongue.