don't look a gift horse in the mouth

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Since horses' gums recede as they age, which makes the teeth appear to grow long, checking the teeth of a horse given as a gift is a way of checking for old age.

From earlier given horse: "No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth." —John Heywood, 1546.

The substitution of "gift" for "given" occurred in 1663 in Butler’s Hudibras, because the iambic tetrameter required a shortening:

He ne’er consider'd it, as loth
To look a Gift-horse in the mouth.

Although uncertain, the origin can be traced even further to St. Jerome's "Equi donati dentes non inspiciuntur.", The Letter to the Ephesians, circa AD 400.

Proverb[edit]

don't look a gift horse in the mouth

  1. Do not unappreciatively question a gift or handout too closely.

Related terms[edit]

Translations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Gregory Y. Titelman, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, 1996, ISBN 0-679-44554-4, p. 69.