long in the tooth


long in the toothidiom (adjective phrase)
/lɔŋ ɪn ðə tuːθ/


  • aging; elderly.
  • old or past one’s prime.
  • becoming outdated or obsolete.
  • no longer young.
  • to get too old for something.

Example Sentences

  1. He’s getting a bit long in the tooth to be playing professional football.
  2. This car is getting a little long in the tooth; maybe it’s time to buy a new one.
  3. The coach is getting a bit long in the tooth to handle the physical demands of the game.
  4. Some of the software we’re using is long in the tooth; it’s time for an upgrade.
  5. While she may be long in the tooth, her experience makes her invaluable.
  6. This model of smartphone is long in the tooth; it’s time to look for a newer version.

Origin and History

The idiom “long in the tooth” has its origins in the equine world, where the age of a horse can be estimated by examining its teeth. As a horse grows older, its gums recede, making the teeth appear longer. This trait led to the use of the phrase “long in the tooth” as a metaphor for old age.

The phrase likely dates back to the practice of horse trading, where assessing a horse’s age by its teeth was a crucial skill. This method of aging horses has been in use for centuries and is well understood by those involved in agriculture and equestrian activities. William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1852 novel, “Long in the Tooth,” contains the earliest recorded use of the term in English literature. The History of Henry Esmond, Esq; where it is used to describe an aging woman.

The idiom was originally specific to horses, but over time, people adopted it into a broader vernacular to describe people and objects. By the late 19th century, it had become common to refer to someone or something that was old or past its prime. An 1889 newspaper provides an example of this shift, questioning a horse’s age by referring to it as “a little long in the tooth.”

People use the idiom today, either humorously or critically, to suggest that someone or something is old and possibly out of date. It reflects a universal human experience—the passage of time and its effects on both living beings and inanimate objects. The phrase has remained relevant in various contexts, such as describing aging technology, outdated ideas, or elderly individuals.

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