Long in the Tooth

Also:
A bit long in the tooth
Long of tooth

Meaning of Idiom ‘Long in the Tooth’

To be long in the tooth means to be rather old; quite old; getting on in years; (sometimes) too old (for something). 1Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.,2Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.,3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.


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Usage

This idiom is often used to describe individuals who are not actually very old but that may be too old for a particular activity or circumstance.

Examples Of Use

“Don’t you think Uncle Jim is a bit long in the tooth to be remodeling our house?”

“I was getting too long in the tooth for boxing. I figured it was time to retire and try something new.”

“At 35 I was rather long in the tooth to be in college. But, better late than never, I thought.”

Origin

Used since the mid-1800s.

The allusion in this idiom is quite easy to guess. Of course, as humans, our teeth do not continue growing but in some other animals, they do. While the beaver and some other small animals spring to mind, this expression most likely refers to horses. A horse’s teeth do continue to grow throughout much of its life, but, especially in domesticated horses, they are continually ground down by the horse’s chewing. Eventually, the teeth stop growing and will get shorter and more ground down, not longer. However, as horse ages, its gums tend to recede making the teeth appear longer. This was once used as a way of measuring the age of a horse in the 1800s. Human gums, as well, can recede as we age, making the teeth appear longer.

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Sources   [ + ]

1, 2. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.