"Look a (gift) horse in the mouth"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Mar 10 19:17:39 UTC 2013

Am I the only one (not brought up on a farm) to associate this adage (incorrectly, it appears) with the Trojan horse, the one that popularized "Danaos timeo et dona ferentur" if I remember my Virgil--Wilson will correct me if not--i.e. 'Beware of Greeks (even) bearing gifts'?  It seemed like the Trojans *should* have looked their gift horse in the mouth (at least far down enough to see all those Greek soldiers), which made it all a bit confusing.


On Mar 10, 2013, at 2:46 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

> 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.
>    VS-)
> 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
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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