English 中文网 漫画网 爱新闻iNews 翻译论坛
当前位置: Language Tips> 译通四海> Columnist 专栏作家> Zhang Xin

Never look a gift horse in the mouth

[ 2010-04-30 13:28]     字号 [] [] []  
免费订阅30天China Daily双语新闻手机报:移动用户编辑短信CD至106580009009

Never look a gift horse in the mouth

Wei asks:

Please explain the meaning of the English proverb “never look a gift horse” in the mouth.

My comments:

Thanks, Wei, for raising a good question, one that sent yours truly flurrying to fresh research.

And a good proverb it is, too.

A gift horse is a horse someone gives you as a gift. For free.

Don’t therefore, look the horse up in the mouth.

Horse owners, you see, look their horses in the mouth to check their teeth. If their teeth look young, smooth, strong and healthy, then the horses are strong and healthy. If the teeth are old and worn, the horses are old and useless.

Hence the saying: Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Lest you be accused of being ungrateful.

I mean, you are an ingrate. Gifts are given for free and out of good will. They’re often not handed out for their physical or material value. Therefore, they should be appreciated accordingly, for the generosity and good spirit behind the good gesture.

This proverb, by the way, is not English in origin. Saint Jerome (c. 347 – 30 September 420), who is best known for translating the Bible into Latin, first said it. This, according to Trivia-Library.com:

St. Jerome, who never accepted payment for his writings, first used the phrase in reply to his literary critics. His exact words: “Never inspect the teeth of a gift horse.”

Here’s an example of what happens if you look a gift horse in the mouth:

Knockoff iPod shuffle giveaway ruffles some feathers (Arstechnica.com, May 23, 2009)

If you were one of the lucky individuals attending the Swiss Economic Forum last week, you might have been one of 1,200 attendees who received an MP3 player that closely resembled a last-generation iPod shuffle. According to Cult of Mac, the Switzerland-based insurance company Mobiliar gave out the digital audio players that were pretty much dead ringers for the only attractive iPod shuffle Apple has ever made.

Most of the folks receiving the free player were probably pretty happy—after all, conference swag has taken such a sharp downturn in the last five years. But there was at least one attendee who was not amused by the iPod knockoff gift: head of Apple Switzerland Arian Schmucki. Apparently, he never learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Some guests even rubbed salt in the wound by asking him if the device would sync with Apple's digital music management software, iTunes. Schmucki was reportedly so upset that he threatened legal action against the insurance company.

There is no word yet as to what will happen to the promotional iPod knockoffs, but we can only hope that it’s as humorous as that time Electronic Arts asked for all those promotional pairs of brass knuckles back.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Turf war

Private citizen?

Heads up?

In the same league?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)