An idiom a day keeps your English okay! In this series we examine English idioms and teach you how to use them.
Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
‘A gift horse’ is an old phrase that means a horse you got as a present. To look in its mouth means to check its teeth. Horse experts can judge the health of a horse from its teeth.
This idiom says ‘if someone gives you a horse for free, don’t check its teeth to see if it’s a good horse. Especially not in front of the person who gave you the horse.’
So we use this idiom for occasions when someone is being ungrateful.
Imagine you buy your sister a used car. She needs a car, and you have some spare money, so why not?
But when you give her the keys, instead of being happy and jumping around and hugging you, she slowly walks around the car with a stern look on her face. “These tyres are a bit worn,” she says. “And it smells of coconuts.” That might be true, but she shouldn’t act like this. Why is your sister such an ungrateful idiot? I hate your sister!
You can also use this idiom to talk about taking opportunities.
You know that your boss hates you (because he met your sister one day) so when he chooses you to go on the business trip to Madrid – flying first class, staying in a nice hotel, eating tapas and drinking cervezas all week – you are surprised. “Why did he choose me? What does it mean?”
Don’t worry about it! It’s a nice thing and you will have a great time. So don’t think too much about why he chose you. All that matters is you have a great time and don’t fall in love with any Spanish women because they are trouble.
Real Life Examples
– Wow! I’ve just won two tickets to ride on a blimp!
– A what?
– A blimp! An airship!
– Oh, you mean a zeppelin. I love zeppelins. I always wondered what it feels like to travel like that. So elegant. There was a computer game I played when I was a kid. That was all about zeppelins. I’ve had a lifelong obsession with zeppelins.
– Do you want to come with me? It’s two tickets.
– You know I have a boyfriend right? I have a boyfriend. My boyfriend and I are in a relationship. It’s me and my boyfriend who live and sleep together.
– Um… I just thought you might like to go on the blimp.
– I would like to go on the ZEPPELIN but not with you! I’d like to go with my boyfriend who is not you.
– Wow. You shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, you know. Things aren’t always perfect. I’ll go with someone else. Maybe I’ll invite your boyfriend, since he’s such a perfect guy.
– Hey, Jack!
– Hey? Who are you?
– I’m Bobby. I was just talking with Sam.
– Sam? She’s my girlfriend.
– Yes, I know. I was telling her I won two tickets for a blimp ride and wondered if you wanted to come with me.
– Blimps! Wow. Sure I’ll go with you.
– Where’s it going from?
– From London to Norwich and back.
– Norwich? Why would I want to go to Norwich? There’s nothing there.
– We aren’t getting out and doing a ghost walk – we’re just floating above it, looking down on the glorious English countryside.
– I think we should go to Cambridge or somewhere.
– It’s not a choice. The blimp goes to Norwich.
– Well, I suppose I’ll go… but it would be better if it went to Cambridge.
– Do you know the phrase ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’? You just talked yourself out of a free blimp ride.
– Hey. Did you hear about Bobby?
– No, what?
– He died in a blimp accident.
– Your older brother? Your only living relative? Shit!
– Yeah. It was on the news.
– What’s going to happen to his house?
– Oh, I guess I’ll inherit it.
– Well, that’s something positive. Every cloud has a silver lining.
– No, it’s in Norwich.
– Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! It doesn’t matter where it is. You don’t have to live there. You can rent it out. Bit of extra money each month.
– That’s true! Hooray for blimp disasters.