Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Twists & Turns of Phrase

To look a gift horse in the mouth is to fail to appreciate the generosity someone has shown you.

Now as a city girl, I’ve never received a horse, and if I did I’m pretty sure looking in its mouth wouldn’t be my first impulse. So who would look a gift horse in the mouth, and why would it show them to be ungrateful?

Origins: It turns out that people can tell a lot about the age and the health of a horse by looking at its teeth, so it makes sense that someone in the market for a new steed would take a look at those pearly whites before buying one. But if someone’s just given you a horse and the first thing you do is check its chompers…well, I can see how that’s a bit rude. It’s a lot like tossing the unread greeting card over your shoulder in your haste to see how many zeros are on your birthday cheque, isn’t it?

History: According to the OED, this turn of phrase has been around since at least 1546 when John Heywood recorded it as follows in A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue: No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth.

The contributor of the photo of the Icelandic horse is Andy Carvin. The photo is copyrighted but also licenced for further reuse.

One Reply to “Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.