A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 19, 2012
“Bite off more than one can chew” (undertake too much)

"Don’t bite off more than you can chew” means that one shouldn’t attempt to do more than one is capable of doing. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew when you chewing tobacco” was cited in print in 1873, but most modern images of the saying involve chewing food (and not tobacco).


Wiktionary: bite off more than one can chew
Verb
bite off more than one can chew

1. (idiomatic) To try to do too much; to take on or attempt more than one is capable of doing.
Usage notes
Often used as a caution, “don’t bite off more than you can chew”.

The Free Dictionary
bite off more than one can chew
1. Lit. to take a larger mouthful of food than one can chew easily or comfortably.
2. Fig. to take (on) more than one can deal with; to be overconfident.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
to bite off more than one can chew (orig. U.S.): to undertake too much, to be too ambitious
1878 J. H. Beadle Western Wilds ii. 42 You’ve bit off more’n you can chaw.
1916 G. B. Shaw Pygmalion 195 The mistake we describe metaphorically as ‘biting off more than they can chew’.
1962 J. L. Austin’s Sense & Sensibilia i. 1 They [sc. doctrines] all bite off more than they can chew.

28 April 1873, Coshocton (OH) Democrat, pg. 3, col. 2:
Don’t bite off more than you can chew when you chewing tobacco.

29 April 1873, Cincinnati Daily Times and Chronicle, “Fresh Nutmegs” (From the Danbury News), pg. 3, col. 6:
“Bailey, my boy, you are doing well, but for God’s sake don’t bite off more than you can chaw.”

4 February 1878, New York (NY) Herald, “Amateur Champion Oarsmen,” pg. 6, col. 4:
We have a homely, backwoods proverb which cautions ambitious youths “not to bite of more than they can chew.”

Chronicling America
9 May 1878, Belmont Chronicle (St. Clairsville, OH), pg. 2, col. 5:
You ask too many questions. “Do not bite off more than you can chaw.”

Google Books
August 1887, Wallace’s Monthly, “The Fleetwood Meeting,” pg. 462, col. 1:
Trotters, especially little ones, shouldn’t be made to “bite off more than they can chew.”

OCLC WorldCat record
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Author: Troy Conway
Publisher: New York : Paperback Library, 1967.
Series: Coxeman, #1.
Edition/Format: Book : Fiction : English : Paperback library ed

OCLC WorldCat record
A brand too far? As Virgin sets its sights firmly on the US, we ask whether Richard Branson is about to bite off more than he can chew
Publisher: London : Haymarket Press, c1968-
Edition/Format: Article : English
Publication: Marketing. (April 03, 1997): 13
Database: ArticleFirst

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Friday, October 19, 2012 • Permalink