Dont Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

I was recently reading “Teddy,” the ninth story of JD Salinger’s Nine Stories. Before Teddy begins speaking with Nicholson about life and death, he takes time to jot down some to-dos and reflections in his notebook—a seemingly daily ritual of his. One of those musings is the line, “Life is a gift horse in my opinion.” I (and small children alike) was able to get the gist of the idiom based on the context, but I had to quickly admit to myself that I had no idea what it stood for exactly.

Idiom:
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. 

Meaning:
As it turns out, the idiom represents the notion that you should appreciate the act of giving, rather than the value of the gift itself.

History:
To better understand the idiom, we first need to understand another idiom. And that idiom is none other than “long in the tooth.”

Teeth?! Gifts?! What in the who is where and why?! See, we didn’t always have automobiles. We used to use horses for transportation and power. However, like your 1982 Volvo, horses can die. Leaving you without a method to get around and plow your field.

Horse specialists can judge a horses age by their teeth alone. Now, it does get more complicated than this, but generally, the length of a horse’s tooth is a dead giveaway for its age. Long in the tooth=old AF.

So your go-to horse just died, or maybe is about to die, and a friend comes to the rescue and gives you’re a horse. You may have the urge to open up the horse’s mouth and see just how young this beast is, but that would be rude and in poor taste. Thus, you’re not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth. Just be happy with the free horse.

Final Thoughts:
Coming full circle, I appreciate Teddy’s opinion regarding life a lot more. What a nice thought. Sure we beat our brains in with road rage or the upcoming weekend visit with our in-laws. But maybe we should just accept the flaws and be grateful we’re alive. I’m the last person you’ll ever see fully embrace this, as I am quite cynical. Yet, the message still gets to me. It’s a nice thought.