What Does Long In The Tooth Mean?

Long in the Tooth Meaning

Definition: Old.

This expression is a less direct way to describe older people, or possibly animals, rather than things or places.

Origin of Long in the Tooth

This idiom began to appear in writing in the first half of the 1800s. Most sources cite horses as the inspiration for this saying, since it is possible to know the age of a horse by examining its teeth.

Despite the fact that horses’ teeth can wear down over time, the idea is that the longer the tooth is, the older the horse is. Therefore, this idiom is used to describe aged individuals.

Examples of Long in the Tooth

long in the tooth originHere is an example of a math professor and her student using the idiom.

Student: Oh no. This is the worst.

Teacher: Why? What’s the matter?

Student: You wouldn’t understand.

Teacher: I might surprise you. If you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.

Student: I am having problems with friends. Sorry, but you’re a little too long in the tooth to understand the situation.

Teacher: First of all, it is offensive to say that. Second of all, with age comes wisdom. Just try me.

what does a little long in the tooth meanIn this example, two friends are discussing a third friend’s new boyfriend.

Monica: Did you hear that Rebecca has a new boyfriend?

Janice: Yeah. But I don’t know anything about him. I don’t even know his name. All that I heard was that he’s super old.

Monica: Come on, Janice. Be nice!

Janice: What? It’s true, isn’t it?

Monica: Well, to be honest, he is a little long in the tooth.

Janice: That’s what I’m saying. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. She’s not very mature herself, so maybe he will be a good influence on her.

More Examples

In this excerpt, the idiom describes an athlete who is still young by most standards but is old for a professional athlete.

  • When 2020 rolls around, James will be 35, which is long in the tooth for any NBA player, let alone one with aspirations of being among the select few chosen for Team USA. –Washington Post

In our second excerpt, the idiom describes an actor who was too old for a part in a James Bond movie.

  • When Mr. Moore made this 1985 film, his seventh and final appearance as 007, a critic for The Washington Post wrote, “Moore isn’t just long in the tooth — he’s got tusks.” –New York Times


The phrase long in the tooth is another, less direct, way to describe someone who is older.