February 22, 2005

Ask Tim: Gift Horses

A reader asks:
I have question for Tim who is wise like the old Piut Indian. While herding cattle on the Ponderosa a Indian savage told me, "Don't look (or was it lick) a gift horse in the mouth". I understand what this is supposed to mean, but it makes no sense? Can you try to explain the origins of this saying? And is it "don't look..." or "don't lick..."

Thanks, Benjamin Cartwright

First of all, I'm pretty sure it's "look" - licking a horse is lowly recommended, gift or no gift. Second, the meaning of the expression: The idea is that if you are given a gift, you shouldn't question it. For example, when you are accidentally given a large french fries instead of a medium, you shouldn't complain if you find a finger in it. Finally, to the origins of this expression: This website explains it nicely. The gist of it is that looking at a horse's mouth (and jaw, in particular), is one way to examine it's quality. If one is given a horse as a gift (a gift horse, if you will), it is an insult to the giver to inspect it by looking it in the mouth. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for my own pet theory, that gift horses could shoot blinding lasers out of their mouths. Posted by mill1991 at February 22, 2005 12:22 PM