pull in one's horns

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Alternative forms[edit]


In reference to the behaviour of a snail when it is threatened.


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pull in one's horns (third-person singular simple present pulls in one's horns, present participle pulling in one's horns, simple past and past participle pulled in one's horns)

  1. (idiomatic) To become less impassioned, aggressive, or argumentative; to exercise restraint; to yield or capitulate.
    • 1848, Anthony Trollope, The Kellys and the O'Kellys, ch. 7:
      Barry . . . stood, during this tirade, half stupefied with rage, and half frightened, at the open attack made on him. . . . However, he couldn't pull in his horns now, and he was obliged, in self-defence, to brazen it out.
    • 1904, Jack London, The Sea Wolf, ch. 9:
      "I see Cooky's finish," I heard Smoke say to Horner.
      "You bet," was the reply. "Hump runs the galley from now on, and Cooky pulls in his horns."
    • 1912, P. G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally, ch. 14:
      Anyone else would have pulled in his horns and gone slow for a spell, but he's one of those fellows whose horse is always going to win the next race.
    • 1950 Oct. 30, "The Press: Time to Pause," Time:
      Editor & Publisher Edwin Palmer Hoyt decided to pull in his horns. Said Hoyt: "We've decided it is time to pause, recapitulate and prepare to recommence."
    • 2003 April 6, Susan Warner, "Fighting Off the Chains," New York Times (retrieved 10 Sep 2012):
      "Smaller hardware stores in the area were scared," he said. "They stopped making investments. They pulled in their horns."