don't look a gift horse in the mouth

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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.


don't look a gift horse in the mouth

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

Related terms[edit]


See also[edit]


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