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Hey, Language Lovers!

We all know those old sayings and turns of phrases. You probably use them every day. These expressions, or adages, have become so widespread and frequently used that they’ve actually blended right into our typical conversations. You likely use these old sayings without even realizing it. In June, I did some digging on the phrase ‘Keep it Up’, which I was stunned to learn was a phrase with its own origin story and not just…three words. Check out that post right here.

Today we’re examining the origin of the phrase ‘Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth’. Simply put, this phrase means that you ought to be grateful when you’re given a gift. If your older brother gives you a watch, don’t scoff at the brand and mention that it’s not the color you’d prefer.

This phrase’s origin just about covers itself right there in the adage. Its origin is incredibly literal, yet I still thought a little explanation might help people understand why we use this outdated scenario to remind folks to show gratitude when being presented with a gift.

Of course, this phrase harkens back to a time when horses were commonly traded, purchased, and gifted to people. And since horses’ gums significantly recede with age, it’s a common way to know what a horse is worth by looking at how long their teeth are. Being gifted a horse back in the day and immediately checking out its mouth was the equivalent to today’s checking brand and wishing for a different color.

A bonus adage for today is ‘Long in the Tooth’. Less commonly-used, to say someone is getting long in the tooth is to say they’re getting up there in age.

So folks, in conclusion, be appreciative and show your gratitude when you receive gifts from your parents, grandparents, siblings, along with any other family members and friends. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (and don’t tell anyone that they’re getting long in the tooth). Enjoy another adage origin Blog post from the past by clicking right here. And, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

Posted in Adage Origin


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