This is a passage from an article on the origin of the idiom bite the bullet:

“Bite the bullet” was originally used quite literally, and referred only to the actual act of biting a bullet. Many times operations were performed in the field or in rough hospitals without the benefit of any kind of anesthetic. The soldier was given a bullet to bite down on. In order to avoid swallowing the bullet, he needed to maintain focus on the bullet between his teeth, helping him to think about something besides the pain he was enduring.

What does rough mean here when used to describe a hospital?

1 Answer 1


"Rough" can mean incomplete, unpolished, or crude. That's the meaning here. They are not talking about up-to-date hospitals with permanent buildings, the latest equipment, and fully stocked with all useful medicine and supplies, but about hospitals hastily thrown together near a battlefield with whatever resources were at hand.

We use pretty much the same meaning of the word when we say that something is a "rough draft", or that he "built a rough cabin in the woods", etc.

  • 1
    Would you say it is different from the context of a "rough neighborhood" which implies, I think, danger. Are these distinct definitions of rough, or are they both implied when you use it?
    – Gray
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 18:58
  • 3
    I would say that a "rough neighborhood" is a different meaning of "rough". In that context it means "violent" or "crime-ridden" rather than "unfinished".
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 19:02
  • 1
    Thanks. I just wanted to clear up that distinction. Maybe I am blind, but when I was considering answering this question, I couldn't find THAT definition, so I figured I'd leave it to someone who could better word an answer. Some come close, but none suggest danger/crime-ridden as you say.
    – Gray
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 19:05

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