When receiving a gift from someone, do not be ungrateful.
Example: Pam received a gift—it was a beautiful watch. However, instead of showing gratitude, she examined the watch for flaws. She also checked to see if the brand and color were to her liking. “This watch looks cheap, so I don’t know if I’m going to wear it,” Pam said. Her behavior is quite rude, don’t you think? Upon seeing Pam’s reaction to the gift, someone might tell her: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
In other words, show some appreciation for the gift.
Origin Of – Don’t Look a Gift Horse In The Mouth
The origin of this proverb is unknown. However, it sounds like there was a time when, after receiving a horse as a gift, people would literally look into the horse’s mouth. This would be a rude thing to do. But why? And for that matter, why would someone want to look into the mouth of a horse?
The reason is because a horse’s age can be determined by inspecting its teeth. Basically, the longer the teeth, the older the horse. Thus, looking a gift horse in the mouth could be considered rude because the person is essentially examining the horse to see if it measures up to their standards. The implication is that they are checking its teeth to see if the horse is too old.
So perhaps this behavior was common enough that people started to be told “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” This advice later became a saying that applied to anyone who acted ungrateful after receiving a gift. Of course, since the origin is unknown, this is just speculation.
This proverb goes back to at least the 16th century. For example, John Heywood, who is thought to have lived from the years 1497-1580 C.E., is said to have written the saying down in a book of his. The book is called A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue, 1546:
“Where gifts be given freely—east, west, north or south—No man ought to look a given horse in the mouth.”
- Bob preferred to wear light colored shirts, but his friend bought him a pack of dark colored ones as a gift. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, Bob accepted the gift and thanked his friend for the shirts.
Note: The origin of many idioms is not known. What will be included in such cases is a theory as to how an idiom originated. Or if not that, a quote is typically included on the page that can give you an idea for the expression’s age. So, for example, if I quote a newspaper from 1745 because it used a certain expression, then you know it’s at least that old.