biter bit

Or you could say, ‘the biter got bitten.’ The phrase is used to indicate that someone is being treated in the same way that they have treated others, usually badly. Now the cruel biter is being cruelly bitten and the original victim is getting his revenge.

In the late 17th century, a biter was a cant term for a fraudster or trickster. ‘Biter-bit’ is also a technical editorial term used to describe a story about aggression, in which the aggressor ends up as the victim.

A biter-bit story is often told from the point of view of the eventual victim, who throughout the major part of the story is the perpetrator of the joke or swindle. The biter-bit has two component parts: first, a fairly original situation in which one person is doing another dirt; second, an ingenious reversal whereby dirt is done to the doer.

Essentially, the biter-bit is an extended joke or anecdote. Just as in so many jokes, there is  non-malicious aggression and then a sudden setback for that aggressor. As in the joke, too, the story first sets up a tense situation and then explosively loosens it with an unexpected reversal. As with a successful joke, the good biter-bit must have a spark. It is a very common story-form, not difficult to write, and very popular with readers.

Closing with the re-occurrence of an initial situation is an ancient, time-honored gimmick, used and abused many times over. But done with a certain amount of verve, it always seems to amuse the reader.

Editors are quick to locate flaws in the logic of stories. And with the biter-bit, it’s almost impossible to develop a tricky situation which will stand close scrutiny for motive. When there are these basic inescapable flaws in the story-idea, they must be camouflaged. If the editor asks you to make your characters act more reasonably, he wants you to have them seem to act more reasonably.

The biter-bit story has been around for a long time and is still going strong. The Green Fairy Book contains Andrew Lang’s short story Biter Bit. And The Biter Bit is an 1899 British short black-and-white silent comedy film. Currently there is a book with that same title by David L. Atkinson and published by Kindle, as well as another by Harry Downey called The Biter Bit and Other Tales.

I’ve always loved revenge tales and have written some short stories along that line, though I used to call them ‘the worm turns’ stories, meaning that the long-suffering worm finally has had enough and takes revenge on whoever is trampling him.

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