don't look a gift horse in the mouth

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Since horses' teeth grow over time, checking their length is a way of gauging old age, and therefore a sign of mistrust towards the giver.

From Middle English texts for “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 Latin translation equi donati dentes non inspiciuntur, from 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.