"Look a (gift) horse in the mouth"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Mar 10 19:31:26 UTC 2013

Really?  Doesn't one also look a gift horse in
the mouth to determine what it's worth -- its
age, health?  See "gift-horse" under "horse" in
the OED.  "21.   gift horse n. (earlier given
horse) a horse bestowed as a gift. to look a gift
(†given) horse in the mouth , to criticize and find fault with a gift."

Where, however, I find a form of the expression
back to 1546 -- I missed it earlier because it's
a "geuen horse".  ("Gift horse" remains with Samuel B., at 1663.)

Re Larry's comment about Troy, I was thinking
only of renderings in English.  Unless he can
find a translation of Homer that dates before 1663.


At 3/10/2013 02:46 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."
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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