"Look a (gift) horse in the mouth"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 10 18:46:56 UTC 2013

These seem to be horses of a different color. The whole point of looking
a horse in the mouth is precisely to determine its age/health. You don't
look a gift horse in the mouth (also exists in other languages, although
sometimes--e.g., in Russian--with "teeth" for "mouth") because it's
impolite. So the first expression should certainly predate the second
logically, although, of course, they may well have coexisted from the start.


On 3/10/2013 1:58 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> Can someone easily tell me the date of "look a (gift) horse in the mouth"?
> The OED has it earliest in 1663, under "gift-horse", as
> 1663   S. Butler Hudibras: First Pt. i. i. 37   He ne'er consider'd
> it, as loath To look a gift-horse in the mouth.
> I have "look a horse  in the mouth" (that is, without "gift") in a
> quack's harangue attributed to the Earl of Rochester, which would
> make his use before 1680.  (I don't know whether a publication date
> can be obtained.)
> The quotation is not exactly PC:  "here in England, look a horse in
> the Mouth, and a Woman in the Face, you presently know both their
> Ages to a Year."
> Joel

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