Long In The Tooth


The phrase long in the tooth means that someone or something is old.

Example: The stove in my kitchen is the same one from when I first moved in a decade ago. It has worked great over the years and I’ve cooked many meals on it. However, lately it’s been struggling to heat things. I realize that it’s long in the tooth, so I guess I have to buy a new one. (In other words, the stove is old.)

1. Along in years
2. Getting up in years
3. No spring chicken

A horse, long in the tooth
A horse having it’s mouth and teeth inspected. They’re looking a little long!

Origin Of ‘Long In The Tooth’

Where does this expression come from? The phrase “long in the tooth” is believed to originate from horses, or more specifically, a horse’s teeth. How so? Because the older a horse gets, the longer their teeth become. So it is possible to give an approximation for how old a horse is simply by looking at their teeth.

Now, let’s talk about when this phrase shows up in print. There’s a small snippet in an article printed in the Huron Daily Huronite newspaper from the year 1889 that uses this expression. To give context for the following quote, someone was analyzing a horse because they were interested in buying it, but he had doubts about its age, so he said:

“‘Open his mouth. What did you say his age was? I think he’s a little long in the tooth. Seven years did you say he was? I should call him 10 or 11 years old.'”

Today, this phrase is used to describe the age of people or things.

Example Sentences

Here are is an example of the idiom in a sentence:

  • The lawnmower I’ve used to cut my lawn every other week has finally broken down. It was long in the tooth, so I’m not surprised.

Similar Example:

  • The average lifespan for a domesticated cat is around 15 years. My cat has lived longer than that, so he’s along in years, but he’s still going strong.

Note: The origin of many phrases and sayings cannot be said with a certainty. So what’s provided in cases where the origin is unknown are theories that may sound plausible for how a phrase originated, but it might not actually be the case. If no explanations are given, then there will still typically be a quote of the expression on the page. These quotes can give you an idea on how old the expression is.