What does “long in the tooth” mean?

'Long in the tooth' is a humorous expression for describing someone who is old or aging. Learn the origin, usage, and modern interpretations of this idiom.

Understanding the Idiom “Long in the Tooth”

“Long in the tooth” is an idiomatic expression used to describe someone who is old or aging.

It is a humorous way of referring to someone’s age without being too direct.

Here are three brief definitions of the idiom:

  1. Someone who is “long in the tooth” is getting old or showing signs of aging.
  2. The phrase is often used to describe someone who is past their prime.
  3. The expression can also be used to describe something that is outdated or past its usefulness.

Here are three example sentences that use the idiom:

  1. “I don’t know if I want to hire him. He seems a little long in the tooth for the job.”
  2. “I used to be a great athlete, but now I’m getting a little long in the tooth.”
  3. “That car may have been great in its day, but it’s a little long in the tooth now.”

Here are three synonyms of the idiom:

  1. Over the hill
  2. Past one’s prime
  3. Getting up there

Origins and History

The phrase “long in the tooth” is believed to have originated from the practice of examining a horse’s teeth to determine its age.

As horses age, their teeth become longer, so the longer the teeth, the older the horse.

This practice dates back to the 1800s, and the phrase began to appear in writing during this time.

Literal Meaning in Animals

While the phrase is now used to describe humans, it originally referred to animals, particularly horses.

The length of a horse’s teeth is a reliable indicator of its age, making the phrase a useful tool for horse traders and buyers.

Figurative Use in Humans

Over time, the phrase “long in the tooth” has come to be used figuratively to describe people who are aging.

It is often used in a humorous or lighthearted way, and is not meant to be offensive.

Cultural References and Usage

The phrase “long in the tooth” has been used in literature, including in the works of William Makepeace Thackeray.

It has also been used in popular culture, including in movies and television shows.

Modern Interpretations and Sensitivities

While the phrase is still commonly used, some people may find it offensive or insensitive.

As such, it is important to consider the context in which it is used and to be mindful of the feelings of others.

Is “Long in the tooth” Another Idiomatic Expression Similar to “Long Arm of the Law”?

Yes, “Long in the tooth” is another idiomatic expression similar to “Long arm of the law”.

Both phrases are used to convey a specific meaning.

In the case of “long arm of the law”, it refers to the far-reaching power of the legal system.

The meaning of “long in the tooth” has to do with old age or being past one’s prime.

Similar Expressions in Other Languages

Other languages have similar expressions to “long in the tooth.” In Spanish, for example, the expression “estar en las últimas” (to be in the last ones) is used to describe someone who is near the end of their life.