Proverb: A Gift Horse

Text: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Context: G is a 20 years old Animation and Digital Arts major from Birmingham, UK. He is a junior at USC and has been living in the area for 3 years.

This text is one of a few proverbs G could remember, but he believes he first heard this proverb when he was given a hand-me-down article of clothing and was “being ungrateful” about it. He remembers an older family member, likely a grandparent, telling him this.

Interpretation: After being provided with this text by my informant, I asked my roommate (a self-proclaimed ex-equestrian), if they knew anything about the proverb, as it’s quite popular. They confirmed that looking a horse in its mouth isn’t just a silly part of the saying. You can tell a horse’s age and other facts about its health quality by its teeth. The proverb is saying that, if you receive a horse as a gift, you shouldn’t check its mouth for its age or how its cared for – if you are given something as a gift, you shouldn’t try to find fault in it. I find it particularly interested that this is something my informant initially heard when he was younger, in childhood. He specifically remembered it being a hand-me-down, which is worth discussing because he found fault with something used. As a child, he wasn’t initially grateful for something because it was technically a gift, but he also didn’t know that society would expect him to see the used clothing as a gift. An older family member being the one to tell him this proverb is fitting with what we know about proverbs; it’s a piece of advice coming from someone with more life experience. It also speaks to the fact that society teaches humility and gratitude as a kind of obligation to children – as something not instinctual that dictates how we all should behave.