Bark Is Worse Than One’s Bite – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idioms are words and phrases derived from literal descriptions and observations but have modern figurative uses. They are an excellent way to bring meaning and clarity to your speech and writing, but only if your audience understands the idioms’ relationship to your words.

Let’s learn about the idiom bark is worse than the bite, where it originated from, and how to use it.

What Is the Meaning Behind “Bark Is Worse Than One’s Bite”?

Bark Is Worse Than Ones Bite Idiom Origin Meaning

When a bark is worse than one’s bite is used about a person’s behavior, it means that someone’s grumpy or aggressive words cannot harm you. The person in question talks as if they are tough or even violent. However, they will not back up their words or threats with actions, and they are considered harmless.

For example:

  • I had a professor in college whose bark was much worse than his bite; he held everyone accountable but allowed everyone to reach their full potential with guided help.
  • Don’t worry about my neighbor; she likes to form an opinion about everything that is not her business, but her bark is worse than her bite, and you should just ignore her.
  • Growing up, my dad’s bark was worse than his bite, although he was known to meet punishments for serious transgressions.

Origins of Bark Is Worse Than the Bite

Bark Worse Than The Bite Ngram
Bark worse than the bite usage trend.

The expression bark is worse than one’s bite came into use in the mid-1600s and refers to the literal fact that a barking dog is too busy barking to act aggressively.

The Old English boerc, describing the sound a dog makes, has been paired and compared with the word bite since the 17th century when it appeared in the proverb, “Timid dogs bark worse than they bite.”

This proverb has Latin roots and is attributed to Quintius Curtius, a historical and rhetorician who lived in the first century B.C. He is known for his extensive work pertaining to Alexander the Great. His influential saying, “Canis timidus vehementius latrat quam mordet,” is the basis for our modern-day bark is worse than one’s bite.

Let’s Review

Idioms are a great way to bring detail and understanding to your work. Most idioms have a clear literal origin but have acquired a figurative meaning throughout their existence.

When you say that someone or something has a bark that is worse than its bite, you are saying that despite the strong, intimidating or even violent words being spoken, there is no action to back them up.

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