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10/05/2004

My gym had a big celebration last week wherein they were giving away raffle tickets at different "stations" -- body fat measurement, chiropractic consultation, etc. I figured it was worth a few minutes to gather up tickets, and when I went in yesterday, I saw I was on the list of winners! A gift certificate for $50 to George. I didn't know what George was (a restaurant? a boutique?), but regardless of what kind of store it was, I was getting excited to spend $50 there. So after class, Audree and I went to pick up my prize. Turns out George is an adorable, high end pet store.

Alas, I am petless.

Which brings me to wonder about the origin of the phrase "looking a gift horse in the mouth", which is appropriate here not just for the animal reference, but for its meaning, which is 'questioning the value of something you have received for free'. A trip to the discussion boards on www.yourdictionary.com cleared it right up:
Someone purchasing a horse checks it carefully. One of those checks was for its actual age (mileage!) by checking its teeth. The longer the teeth, the older the horse. (Remember the idiom "a little long in the tooth"?) The idea is that when you are given a gift, you shouldn't be scrutinizing it for faults. (posted by gailr)

From what I understand, in addition to the age of the horse, the teeth also reveal a lot about the health of the animal. So inspecting the horse's mouth was a way to make sure you were getting a healthy horse. (posted by Tim)
Ah, what would we do without the internet? I now also know how to say the phrase in several languages:
Swedish: Skåda inte given häst i munnen.
Dutch: Je mag een gegeven paard niet in de bek kijken.
French: À cheval donné, on ne regarde pas la bride.
Portuguese: A cavalo dado não se olham os dentes.
Spanish: A caballo regalado, no se le mira el diente.
Feel free to use the above phrases to admonish your ungrateful foreign friends.

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