Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Army Trains Pfc. Jared Donnell looks into a ho...

Army Trains Pfc. Jared Donnell looks into a horse’s mouth to check the condition of its teeth while performing a physical (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I’ve already pointed out previously, I like to know why things are the way they are. I enjoy looking at the origin or details of a matter. That being said, from time to time, I use the phrase, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.’ I recall my father using this phrase but I don’t recall many other people doing to. Therefore, I decided to look up the origins of this oddity and shed some light on a rather unique cliché.

As I’ve come to discover St. Jerome is reported to have thought it a common saying when he introduced the Epistle to the Ephesians in his translation of the New Testament: “Equi donati dentes non inspiciuntur.”  If you were to translate this as close to word for word as possible, it would say, “A given horse’s teeth are not inspected.” Later, John Heywood in 1546 said, “No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth.” As a horse ages, their gums recede, making their teeth look huge (therefore the term, “long in the tooth,” too). Therefore, when someone inspected a horse’s teeth when the horse was a gift, it was felt as though the person inspecting the gift was ungrateful. If the horse were old, they wouldn’t want it and if the horse was young, it was desirable and more valuable.

So, tell me, have you ever been guilty of looking a gift horse in the mouth?

Until later . . . Jonathan Watson

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