Bark is worse than one’s bite

Bark is worse than one’s bite is an idiom that dates back hundreds of years. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom bark is worse than one’s bite where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Bark is worse than one’s bite means that someone’s grumpy or aggressive words cannot harm you; that the person in question talks as if he will be vindictive or violent, but in reality, will not back up his aggressive words with actions. A person whose bark is worse than his bite may berate you, but he will not attempt to damage your career or punch you in the nose. The expression bark is worse than one’s bite came into use in the mid-1600s and refers to the fact that a barking dog is too busy barking to actually bite you. Dog behaviorists say that a barking dog is afraid, while a dog that is willing to bite is not afraid; he is aggressive and will growl, not bark.


However, when Nagy took part of an hour in a team meeting to show players how Gardner-Johnson punks players or harasses them to take them off their game, and Miller then told media during a Zoom press conference last week that Gardner-Johnson’s bark is worse than his bite, the unsportsmanlike conduct ejection looks utterly destructive. (Sports Illustrated)

And I might add that he also intimidated me when I first started working with him, but I learned early on that his bark is worse than his bite, because guess what?  He now tells me that I intimidate him. (Staten Island Advance)

He’s now 72 and it seems that age hasn’t mellowed the former Tory deputy chairman, novelist, playwright and prisoner, who speaks in clipped tones, rather like a schoolmaster who’s about to tell you off, but with a twinkle in his eye which hints that his bark is worse than his bite. (Romford Recorder)

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