Biting the big one

New York, 70s. Agree could mean both “was bad” and “died,” but the more common of these meanings was “was bad.”

“Man, Jaws 2 really bit the big one.”
“Yeah, I agree, it totally sucked.”

Just chiming in to reinforce the transgenerational shift in meaning of this phrase. In the 1970s, when I was in my 20s, it definitely was an insult meaning that the person or thing being referred to sucked [dick] big-time. That was certainly my personal understanding of it, and we do have documentation, as in the abovementioned SNL sketch… also, there was Dan Aykroyd’s Leonard Pinth-Garnell, host of “Bad Performances”, who was fond of using, among other terms, “really bit the big one” to indicate just how bad the performance in question was.

Chicago, 80s. “Bite the big one” to me pretty much always referred to the “bad” definition. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever heard it refer to death around here. That was “bite the dust” or “bite it” in my neighborhood. (Although it is clear to me that both meanings are in common use.) So, for my usage, the “dick” meaning was the one implied.

My high school drama club performed that sketch, as part of our “Tribute To Saturday Night Live” one year. Believe it or not, it used to be possible to license the rights to SNL sketches and perform them yourself in your school or community theater.

Anyway, this would have been during the mid '80s when we did that sketch. We had to change Connie’s answer of “Bite the Big One” to “Bite the Bullet.” Because “The Big One” obviously referred to a penis, and you couldn’t possibly say that to an audience of high school kids. No one even suggested that there was any other possible interpretation of the phrase.

Another speculation: a fatal heart attack can be referred to as “the big one”. This was popularized (if not coined) by Fred Sanford in Sanford and Son. When he was trying to be manipulative, he’d feign a heart attack and cry “This is the big one”, only to have a miraculous recovery once he got his way.

So, we have: bite the dust for dying
We have: This is the big one for dying from a massive coronary

And thus it would be a quick ‘n’ easy conflation to get “bite the big one” for dying.