Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth"?

The term "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" means don't be ungrateful if someone gives you a gift. More specifically, it means do not question the value of a gift as doing so could imply that you had hoped for a better gift, which could offender the giver.
Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Yes, it is real silver, but don't look for the hallmark. You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.
  • Jack is going to give his old bike for your birthday. I know it's a relic, but be kind. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!
  • It's all he can afford. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth and thank him heartily.
This idiom is over 1500 years old. It originates from the idea that a horse's age can be determined by examining its teeth. Therefore, looking at the teeth of a gifted horse is the same as checking the value of a present.

One of the earliest cited examples of this term comes from St. Jerome's "The Letter to the Ephesians" (written in Latin) in AD 400:
  • "Noli equi dentes inspicere donati."
  • (This translates as "Never inspect the teeth of a given horse.")
The proverb also appears in 1546 in John Heywood's glossary "A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue":
  • "No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth."

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