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The meaning and origin of the expression: Set one's teeth on edge

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Set one's teeth on edge

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Meaning

Literally, to cause an unpleasant tingling of the teeth. More generally, the expression is used to describe any feeling of unpleasant distaste.

Origin

The earlier form of the phrase was 'to edge the teeth' and described the feeling of sensitivity caused by acidic tastes, like raw rhubarb.

A Middle English citation of a version of 'teeth on edge' is found in Wyclif's Bible, or to give it its full name The Holy Bible, made from the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and his followers, 1382:

"And the teeth of sones wexen on egge."

Shakespeare used the expression in Henry IV, Part I, 1596:

HOTSPUR: Marry,
And I am glad of it with all my heart:
I had rather be a kitten and cry mew
Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers;
I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn'd,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree;
And that would set my teeth nothing on edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry:
'Tis like the forced gait of a shuffling nag.

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.