1550s, "cannonball" (a sense now obsolete), from French boulette "cannonball, small ball," diminutive of boule "a ball" (13c.), from Latin bulla "round thing, knob" (see bull (n.2)). The meaning "small ball," specifically a metal projectile meant to be discharged from a firearm, is from 1570s. Earliest version of the figurative phrase bite the bullet "do something difficult or unpleasant after delay or hesitation" is from 1891, probably with a sense of giving someone a soft lead bullet to clench in the teeth during a painful operation.
Beggars' bullets—stones thrown by a mob, who then get fired upon, as matter of course. [John Bee, "Slang," 1823]
"a remedy which is very effective, almost magical;" see silver (adj.) + bullet (n.). The belief in the magical power of silver weapons to conquer foes goes back at least to ancient Greece (as in Delphic Oracle's advice to Philip of Macedon). In Britain, silver bullets as a superstitious countercharm figure in the fictitious Popish Plot (1678).
'Cause champed silver kills stone-dead
Such as are musket-proof 'gainst lead.
[Thomas Ward, from "England's Reformation," 1710]
English folklore beliefs recorded from early 19c. held that a witch could be wounded or revealed (if transformed) only by a wound from a silver bullet. Similar fancies are reported in folk-tales from Ireland and Iceland. The belief in the killing efficacy of silver bullets was transferred to vampires by 1816.
c. 1500, "one who tracks or searches," agent noun from verb form of trace (n.1). Meaning "bullet whose course is made visible" is from 1910.
kind of conical rifle bullet with a hollow base, 1853, named for its inventor, French army officer Claude-Étienne Minié (1814-1879), who designed it 1847-8.
also finger-print, 1834, from finger (n.) + print (n.). Attempts to classify fingerprint types as a means of identification began in the 1820s; the current arch-loop-whorl system was introduced by Francis Galton in 1892. Admissibility as evidence as valid proof of guilt in murder trials in U.S. was upheld in 1912. From 1900 as a verb. Related: Fingerprinted; fingerprinting.
type of metal-cased bullet which expands on impact, 1897, named for Dum-Dum arsenal in Bengal. British army soldiers made them to use against fanatical charges by tribesmen. Outlawed by international declaration, 1899. The place name is literally "hill, mound, battery," cognate with Persian damdama.
It was to stop these fanatics [Ghazi] — and that firstclass fighting man Fuzzy-Wuzzy, of the Soudan and of Somaliland—that the thing known as the Dum-Dum bullet was invented. No ordinary bullet, unless it hits them in a vital part or breaks a leg, will be sufficient to put the brake on these magnificently brave people. ["For Foreign Service: Hints on Soldiering in the Shiny East," London, 1915]
Pile on the brown man's burden
And if ye rouse his hate,
Meet his old fashioned reasons
With Maxims up-to-date;
With shells and dum dum bullets
A hundred times make plain,
The brown man's loss must ever
Imply the white man's gain.
[Henry Labouchère, from "The Brown Man's Burden," 1899]