Posted by: Jack Henry | December 6, 2022

Editor’s Corner: A horse is a horse, of course of course

Dear Editrix,

My dentist mentioned that as we age, there is some gum recession which gives us the appearance of longer teeth, thus leading to the phrase “long in the tooth” meaning “old.”

Do you know of other idioms like this?

D. Davis

Wow, it sounds like you have some interesting trips to the dentist! I did a quick search for phrases and idioms meaning “old,” but I quickly got lost reading about horses. Horses? Yes, “long in the tooth” led me to the following idioms and explanations from various sites.

Long in the Tooth

While your dentist applied this phrase to people, most of the explanations I read said that the phrase originates from horses and their teeth. The older a horse gets, the longer their teeth become. Apparently, if you are daring enough, you can figure out (approximately) how old a horse is, by looking in their mouth.

Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Of course, looking in a horse’s mouth brought this saying to mind, so I had to check it out and see where it led me. From Idioms by the Free Dictionary:

If you say don’t look a gift horse in the mouth or never look a gift horse in the mouth, you mean that someone should accept something that is offered to them, or take advantage of an opportunity, and not try to find faults or difficulties.

This saying, which dates from St. Jerome’s biblical commentary…on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, is based on the fact that a horse’s age is revealed by its teeth. Looking inside a horse’s mouth therefore will tell you if someone is passing off an old nag for a spry colt. The same expression is found in French, Italian, Portuguese, and other languages.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

And yet another phrase about a horse’s mouth! “Straight from the horse’s mouth” means “directly from the source; firsthand.” According to The Phrase Finder, this idiom originated around the turn of the 20th century and comes from horse racing:

In horse racing circles, tips on which horse is a likely winner circulate amongst punters [KC – In this case, a punter is someone who makes a bet]. The most trusted authorities are considered to be those in closest touch with the recent form of the horse, that is, stable lads, trainers etc. The notional “from the horse’s mouth” is supposed to indicate one step better than even that inner circle, that is, the horse itself.

That’s as far as I got with the horses! If you have another phrase or idiom that you’re curious about, I’m happy to try and track it down. You never know where it will lead!

Mr. Ed?

Kara Church | Technical Editor, Advisory | Technical Publications

Pronouns: she/her | Call via Teams |

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