What's the meaning of: "She bit down on a smile"? I found this sentence in a novel but I don't understand what it means exactly. It's a romantic context, a man just kissed her.

  • 3
    Could you provide some context for the sentence? The meaning could depend on the situation. – Tashus Nov 16 at 16:50
  • Yes, sure, I edited. – Gliuò Nov 16 at 16:55
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    I think it's a "lazy, clumsy, hackneyed" metaphoric usage that comes across as awkward and amateurish, to say the least (it's certainly not particularly common in this exact form). Probably influenced by the unexceptional usage to bite one's lip (refrain from speaking one's mind - usually either through tact or intimidation, occasionally after speaking out of turn, in order to "punish" one's mouth for saying something inappropriate). Not a style you should seek to copy. – FumbleFingers Nov 16 at 17:53
up vote 9 down vote accepted

It seems she may be trying to suppress the smile. When I check it out on Google Ngram, the attestations mostly seem to come from pulp romantic fiction, which suggests that this may be a formulaic phrase which writers in that genre are copying from each other (or one that a series editor is injecting).

  • So, if I understand, she bites her lip suppressing a smile? (And yes, it is a romance book) – Gliuò Nov 16 at 17:17
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    That's how I understand it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 16 at 17:19
  • This is not limited to fiction, though it could be regional, I suppose. It's a fairly common expression in New England meaning roughly "suppressing a smile in a circumstance where showing joy would be inappropriate or disadvantageous". It's commonly used to describe an attempt to mask one's experience of schadenfreude. – asgallant Nov 16 at 21:37

Imagine this - You are ecstatic! Maybe you got a promotion in your job or you just heard the news that you are going to be a parent or maybe your novel is finally getting published. But you are in a formal place, you might have the need to keep yourself composed and not start laughing like a lunatic.

You might quite literally, bite down on your smile to keep a straight yet happy face.

This is what the author might want to convey via the said phrase. The girl is happy but might want to retain her composure. Thus, the action.

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