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Gift Horse

Posted by ESC on February 13, 2000

In Reply to: Gift Horse posted by R W SCHNEIDER on February 13, 2000

: What is source and meaning of: "Never look a gift horse in the mouth?" Where and when did it originate?


NEVER LOOK A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH - According to Charles Earle Funk in "A Hog on Ice" (Harper & Row, New York, 1948), the expression "to look a gift horse in the mouth" is ".so old that its origins cannot be determined. It has been traced to the writings of St. Jerome, one of the Latin Fathers of the fourth century, who then labeled it a common proverb. The expression, or a variant proverb, occurs in French, Italian, Spanish, and other languages of Europe. The reference is, of course, to the bad manners displayed by one who receives a gift if he examines it for defects. Up to a certain age, the age of a horse can be determined by looking at its teeth; though it may appear to be young and frisky, the number or condition of teeth may show it to be almost fit for nothing but the glue-works."

In the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996), "The longer the tooth, the older the horse. In Latin 'Equi donati dentes non inspiciuntur' or 'Noli dentes equi inspicere donati.' The proverb was traced back to 'Vulgaria' (c1510)...First cited in the United States in 'Sam Slick's Wise Saws' by Thomas Chandler Haliburton."

This expression is related to another found in the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997): "long in the tooth. That horses' gums recede and their teeth appear longer as they grow older, owing to their constant grinding of their food, is the idea behind this ancient folk phrase, which means one is getting on in years."

See also: the meaning ansd origin of 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth'.