What does “Long in the tooth” mean?
The phrase “long in the tooth” is an unflattering term that alludes to the fact that a horse is getting older. This is due to the fact that the gums of a horse recede as it gets older. This phenomenon was then transferred to humans. The transference is understandably not that old, considering until the modern times, adults that were sufficiently older, or at least old enough to experience gum recession had generally lost most, if not all of their teeth by then.
Where does “Long in the tooth” originate from?
The phrase “long in the tooth” is believed to come from horses or used to refer to a horse’s teeth as mentioned earlier. This is because as a horse gets older, their teeth become longer. This means that it is able to deliver an approximation of just how old a horse is, all you have to do is look at their teeth. The first time this phrase “long in the tooth” shows up in print is in 1889 in an article printed by the Huron Daily Huronite newspaper. For some context, it involved someone analysing a horse because they intended on purchasing it. They, however, had doubts concerning its age. The following is an excerpt with the phrase included:
“‘Open his mouth. What did you say his age was? I think he’s a little long in the tooth. Seven years did you say he was? I should call him 10 or 11 years old.’”
This phrase today is used to describe the age of things and people.
4 Examples of how to use “Long in the tooth” in a sentence
You should note that “Long in the tooth” is extremely informal. If you were to use it in a formal setting, such as a workplace, you can come across as a little creepy. Additionally, you could get reprimanded from your workplace’s HR Department because you have been accused of sexual harassment. At no point should you use this expression on people you aren’t close to or a stranger.
Rather, you should only use “Long in the tooth” with close acquaintances and friends.
Using “Long in the tooth” to describe someone as being older
“Have you seen that new student? He is definitely a little long in the tooth”
“ I always thought she was quite attractive. Nothing was like the first moment I set my eyes on her. Seeing her, I couldn’t talk to her though cos I thought she was long in the tooth and wouldn’t go for a guy like me”.
Using “Long in the tooth” in a statement to describe someone as being distinguished
This instance and meaning of “Long in the tooth” diverges from the original meaning. However, when used, it is seen as a polite way of inferring that someone is old without offending their feelings or sensibilities. This instance is most likely used when talking about the fairer sex or when men are in the company of women.
“Well, would you look at that, Ms Jones is certainly long in the tooth, but you wouldn’t tell it by looking at her”
“Can’t believe little Andy grew up so quickly. How long has it been that he looks a little long in the tooth”
“He came back from summer camp a little long in the tooth”
Using “Long in the tooth” as an endearment to someone you are close to
This instance deals less with how the person in question looks and more about how close you are to them. “Long in the tooth” can be used as a term of endearment. For example,
“Hey, you long in the tooth cutie. How are you today?”
“Alright then, I see you. Looking like a little long in the tooth”
“I noticed her the moment she walked into the room. She is quite easy on the eye even if she is a little long in the tooth”
“The moment when I laid eyes on her, I knew she was the one. It does help that she is long in the tooth. That is just how I like them.
Using “Long in the tooth” to highlight that something is quite old
In this instance, you aren’t using “long in the tooth” to refer to someone, rather you are using to highlight the fact that something you have is quite old.
“Where did you get that jacket? It is looking a little long in the tooth.”
“The lawnmower I’ve used to cut my lawn every other week has finally broken down. It was long in the tooth, so I’m not surprised.”
“Hey, George Washington called, he wanted his hair back. Yes, it looks long in the tooth”