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Refusing to "bite the cartridge" was a turn of phrase used by the British in India of native Indian soldiers (sepoys) who had mutinied in 1857.

It derives from the act of biting open a paper cartridge containing gunpowder and musket ball in order to load contemporary rifles, especially the new Pattern 1853 Enfield rife musket. The phrase is thought by some to have later spawned the more familiar idiom "bite the bullet".

One of the alleged causes of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 were rumours that the grease on these cartridges designed to keep them dry was, variously, pork or beef fat (pork being abhorrent to Muslims, cows being sacred to Hindus), thus their refusal to bite them.[1]


  1. 1869 letter by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan on the origins of the Mutiny of 1857
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