Why not look a gift horse in the mouth?

Have you ever received a horse as a gift? Probably not. Nevertheless, you know that you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. In contrast to similar idioms, in which animals often only act as metaphors, in this case the horse even plays a central role.

horse flaming

Image: Shutterstock / Markus Kaemmerer

In contrast to many other idioms that have their origins in times long past, the explanation for “You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” can even be carried over to the present. Horse buyers check the age of the animals by examining their teeth.

Explanation for “You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”

Horses, like humans, have molars and incisors. And these wear out over time – especially the molars are worn down over time by the grinding of the feed. A buyer can therefore tell from the degree of wear on the animal’s teeth whether the seller cheated a little as to the true age of the horse. However, if the horse is a gift, it would be impolite to look more closely at its age, the statement said.

The saying about the gift horse that you shouldn’t look in the mouth exists in all possible cultures and has its origin in the Latin “Noli equi dentes inspicere donati”. In a figurative sense, it means that gifts should be accepted with joy and gratitude and neither question their material value nor criticize them in any other way.

What do I do with my gift horse now?

You explicitly wanted something very specific from your loved ones for Christmas or your birthday; but a look at the gift table reveals: it didn’t quite turn out as you imagined. Or does your mother-in-law give you useless decorative items on all sorts of occasions that don’t suit your taste at all? Of course you know not to be ungrateful, after all you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. So what to do?

This calls for psychological and diplomatic sensitivity, because the giver probably only meant well from his point of view. If you then show yourself too obviously disappointed, offended or angry because you personally misunderstand the unsuitable gift, or in the worst case you feel patronized, the crooked house blessing is inevitable. So you should only react with honesty if you don’t care much about a harmonious social relationship with the giver or you know for sure that the giver wanted to annoy you. Otherwise, it’s best to lie and pretend you like the atrocity.

Or you try it with a friendly half-truth, say, for example, that you already have the boring book or that the ugly sweater doesn’t fit into your wardrobe in terms of color, but it is otherwise very nice. That way, with a bit of luck, you can get the receipt and exchange the unsuitable gift. However, there is no general right of exchange if the goods are unused and in perfect condition. However, most sellers take back unloved gifts as a gesture of goodwill, especially if the customer asks in a nice and friendly manner.

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