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In a recent exchange with a highly eloquent friend (we were discussing a particularly peculiar episode he has pointed to me in a book) he replied to my comments on the episode with an idiom I've never heard before (being an ESL guy). He said literally "Not biting, eh?". What does this mean?

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why didn't you ask him? – Louis Rhys Jun 23 '11 at 2:45
I did, he took it as me denying I was not biting, the reaction I only completely understood after I asked this question – zvolkov Jun 23 '11 at 19:17
up vote 20 down vote accepted

"Not taking the bait", from fishing, meaning someone offered you a conversational opening (or an invitation to an argument) and you didn't follow up.

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To bite in this context means "to respond to a provocation or temptation". The phrase is understood to refer to a fish biting a baited hook, or possibly to Eve biting into the forbidden fruit.

So in context, something had happened that your friend expected to elicit a response from you. When you didn't respond as expected or intended, he remarked that you were "not biting".

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The other answers are great. Another way it's used is when I read a provocative article (as JSB suggests) and in response I'd say "Ok, I'll bite." I then offer my thoughts on the subject.

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Interviewer: Why....it's OK to go into the movies and enjoy the violence?

Quentin Tarantino (Annoyed): Yeah...well...it is a movie. It's a fantasy, it's a fantasy, it is not real life. It's a fantasy. You go and you watch...you know...you watch...you watch a Kung-fu movie, and one guy takes on a hundred people in a restaurant. That's fun.

Interviewer: But why are you so sure there is no link between enjoying movie violence and enjoying real violence?

Quentin Tarantino (furious): I don't...I....well...I am gonna tell you why I am so sure. Don't....don't ask me questions like that. I am...I am not biting. I refuse your question.

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This is a fascinating exchange. Where did you find it? (Also: Please note that your answer doesn't actually explain what "not biting" means; it just gives a context in which one (famous) person used the phrase.) – Sven Yargs 2 days ago
Interview video Yes, I am aware that it doesn't answer the question directly, but giving the context can help memorize the meaning of the word more than just knowing its definition – Vivid Kothari yesterday

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