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The expression comes from the medical profession. During the nineteenth century surgeons were often called on to perform amputations and the like on the battlefield when no anesthesia was available. So the patient would be given a bullet and told to bite hard upon it. The theory was that this creation of a counter-irritant would serve to distract somewhat from the attention paid by the patient to the pain of the operation. The basic meaning of the expression bite the bullet is that one must act with courage and avoid any show of fear.