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Fun Facts for Kids – The Origins of Common Toothy Phrases

December 31st, 2015
toothy phrases through the ages title card

Armed to the teeth”, “snaggletooth” – have you ever wondered where these terms came from? In today’s post we’re going to look at the origins of some familiar “toothy” phrases.


This is an irregular or projecting tooth. It’s a word that’s been in use since the 16th century; but its heyday was the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s actually a variant of the word “snag”, which could mean a broken or large misshapen tooth. It’s not to be mistaken for Snagglepuss, the wise-cracking Hanna-Barbera character.

Milk Tooth
These are a child’s (or any young mammal’s) first set of teeth, also known as baby teeth, deciduous teeth, or primary teeth. You’re more likely to hear milk teeth in the UK and baby teeth in North America. The origins of this term seem to have been lost in the mists of time, but might refer to the fact that milk teeth are “milky” white or that young children are often still drinking only milk when these teeth begin to come in.

Long In the Tooth
You’ve probably heard the phrase “long in the tooth”, perhaps in reference to an athlete aging out of his or her sport. The phrase actually originates from horses, whose teeth continue to erupt (i.e., appear to grow) as they get older which causes the roots of their teeth to become exposed. An old horse appears to have very long teeth and is therefore “long in the tooth”!

Fight Tooth and Nail
If someone says they fought tooth and nail, they mean they attacked something vigorously and with all their might. It can mean to literally fight by biting with one’s teeth and scratching with one’s nails, but even from its first recorded usage in the 16th century by Thomas More, it has been used figuratively most of the time. If someone says they’re going to come after you tooth and nail, be prepared for a long fight, but not necessarily a physical one!

Can you think of any other weird tooth or dental sayings?


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