This is a mix up of “bite the bullet” and “bitter pill to swallow”, both having similar meanings – reluctantly accepting something unpleasant. “My ol’ pal” correctly told me not to forget “swallow your pride”, which also refers to doing something you would rather not do and so is probably on the speaker’s mind as well. As we approach the fiscal cliff, I think some folks need to swallow the bullet and make those hard choices they were elected to do.
This tortured malaphor was spoken by Tunch Ilkin on Steelers radio yesterday during the Steelers/Browns football game. Tunch is a wonderful commentator and ex-Steeler, and is known for his colorful language describing Steelers games. This time he seemed to have several thoughts buzzing through his head, as he wanted to say, that the Steelers had “shot themselves in the foot” (do something that causes problems for yourself), given that a seventh turnover had just been committed. Perhaps the shooting idea conjured up bullets and the phrase “dodge a bullet” (evaded something) or “took a bullet” (sacrificed), both meaning the opposite of what he wanted to say. The “threw” part of the phrase was the errant pass by the quarterback, resulting in an interception.
Sports media is a treasure trove of malaphors, many of which have been repeated on this website. A big thank you to my wife for hearing this gem on her way home from Costco!