phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Eyeteeth

Posted by Masakim on April 13, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Eyeteeth posted by ESC on April 13, 2002

: : where did " ill give my eye teeth" come from

: I haven't found that exact phrase yet -- give my eyeteeth. It means that a person would give up something vital (eyeteeth, right arm) for something to occur. According to the following, the eyetooth could be considered vital because it represents the coming of age of a child or it could refer to the eyetooth as a "weapon."

: EYETEETH; WISDOM TEETH - "The eyeteeth are those directly under the eye, the long, pointed canines that are cut at 14 to 20 months for the first set and at 11 to 12 years of age for the second set. To 'cut one's eyeteeth' means to 'to acquire wisdom and become worldly,' because the permanent set is acquired when a child is passing into young adulthood. It is usually said in the negative, as in 'he hasn't cut his eyeteeth yet.' The expression was used by Haliburton's Slick Sam in 1837 and Emerson after him, but is British in origin, dating back to the early 1700s, when it was 'to have one's eyeteeth.' 'Eyeteeth' commonly referred to the canine teeth of dogs and other animals long before this, so the phrase may have been suggested by the fact that fighting dogs were considered dangerous to handle when they developed their eyeteeth. Actually, the words better described the emergence from infancy or childhood than they do the acquiring of wisdom. If wisdom does come with age, 'to cut one's wisdom teeth' is more appropriate, for these are cut at the ages of 17 to 25 and up to age 50! These molars have been known as 'dentes sapierntiae, 'teeth of wisdom,' since the time of Hippocrates." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

*give one's eyeteeth* Also, *give one's right arm*. Go to any lengths to obtain, as in _She'd give her eyeteeth for a mink coat_, or _He'd give his right arm for a new car_. These hyperbolic expressions both allude to something precious, the eyeteeth (or canines) being useful for both biting and chewing and the right arm a virtual necessity for the 90 percent of the population who are right-handed. Both date from the first half of the 1900s, when the first replaced *give one's eyes*, from the mid-1800s.
From _The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Robert L. Chapman, in _Dictionary of American Slang, Third Edition_ , dates it "by 1905."