"Look a (gift) horse in the mouth"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Mar 10 20:44:46 UTC 2013

My inferences:

1)  Dave has two antedatings of the OED for "look a given horse in the mouth".

2)  My "look a horse in the mouth", circa 1680 to
1710, looks less interesting to follow up, given
the "given horses" of the 1500s.


At 3/10/2013 04:06 PM, Dave Wilton wrote:
>A version of the proverb appears in John Stanbridge's "Vulgaria," written
>c.1508, in the edition printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1519. (Available on
>EEBO, Huntington Library, STC / 1611:04  image 17 of 20; I don't know if it
>appears in earlier editions.):
>"A gyven hors may not loked in the tethe."
>The following also appears in "Prouerbes or adagies with newe addicions
>gathered out of the Chiliades of Erasmus," 1539, by Richard Tavener:
>"A gyven horse (we saye) maye not be loked in the mouth."
>I don't know if Erasmus said anything close to this. The 1539 book doesn't
>give Erasmus's original, just the translation.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
>Joel S. Berson
>Sent: Sunday, March 10, 2013 3:31 PM
>Subject: Re: "Look a (gift) horse in the mouth"
>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."
> >>
> >>Joel
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------
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