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Long in the tooth

刊登日期: 2018.06.01
作者: Grace Tse  

How can we know that someone is old without directly asking about his or her age? Some physical signs, such as grey hair and wrinkles, might help. Since teeth are also a sign of ageing, some people think that the idiom “long in the tooth”, which means old age, refers to human teeth. 

She is a bit long in the tooth (老;年紀大)to do disco dancing. 

This expression is actually related to a horse’s teeth. Many years ago, before the invention of vehicles, horses were used as the primary means of transportation to carry people and goods. Thus, people were very concerned about the age of a horse. It was a traditional skill to estimate a horse’s age by examining its teeth. Experience told people that when a horse gets older, its gums will recede and the roots of its teeth will be clearly seen. As a result, the horse’s teeth look longer. 

Scholars said that similar phrases appeared in Latin as early as the 16th century. However, it was not until the 19th century when the English version appeared. For example, British author William Makepeace Thackeray used this saying to describe a woman in his novel “The History of Henry Esmond” published in 1852. 

“She was lean, and yellow, and long in the tooth; all the red and white in all the toyshops of London could not make a beauty of her.” 

Nowadays, this expression is also used to describe things which are outdated or too old to do a good job. 

The washing machine is getting a little long in tooth. It cannot remove clothing stains.


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