Sometimes we hear phrases said and wonder what the person who’s using them actually means. For instance, someone may tell you that something came “straight from the horse’s mouth” leaving you to imagine a talking horse but that probably isn’t what they mean.
When someone tells you that it came “straight from the horse’s mouth” what they’re really telling you is that they got the information that they’re sharing with you directly from a person who has personal knowledge of the matter.
Origin of the Phrase
The phrase “straight from the horse’s mouth” comes from horse racing. It alludes to what a perfect racehorse’s bite would be like – something that was also used to tell just how old the horse really was. The idea that lies behind this phrase is that someone has come directly from examining the horse’s mouth to give you some information about the horse’s age and condition – two important pieces of information that would then help a person determine the horse’s value.
This practice only has to do with buying a horse, not racing them since when it comes to horse racing the punter is already familiar with the horse’s age. Even if the punter was suspicious of the horse’s age it’d still be somewhat difficult to imagine them going to the stable to examine the horse’s teeth in order to ascertain their age.
The earliest written instance of this phrase was found in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle on Sunday, September 22, 1861. While the phrase probably didn’t disappear afterward, we don’t see it in the written form again until Friday, July 20, 1900, where it was used in the column This Busy World which was found in The Manchester Weekly Times. The phrase really started to rise up in popularity around the 1920s though.
Over the years the practice of using a horse’s teeth to determine its age has given rise to other phrases that predate “straight from a horse’s mouth.” Another popular one is “long in tooth” which has to do with the fact that as a horse gets older their teeth will grow longer. This phrase is oftentimes used to describe someone who’s older. There’s also the phrase “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” which means that you shouldn’t be critical about a gift you’ve received.
Once again we see this idiom in printed form in May 1913. Here the Syracuse Herald newspaper printed, “I got a tip yesterday, and if it wasn’t straight from the horse’s mouth it was jolly well the next thing to it.” While this still references the horse racing world people in this century believed it did so in a different way. Here people say that it was related to the bets that were placed on the likely winner. Such bets would be circulated among people who were well trusted. These were usually people who were close to the horse and knew him or his trainers and stable workers well.
Another source suggests that this phrase was derived from the fact that many trainers were known to lie about how old their horses were. This is why they’d check the horse’s mouth in order to be able to get a reliable indication of how old the horse was.
There really is no difference in what this saying means though. It’s still thought to mean that the advice you’ve received is so solid that it’s like hearing the information from the horse itself.
Meaning of the Phrase
Now that we know that “straight from the horse’s mouth” is an idiom that comes from the horse racing world we may wonder what an idiom is and what this one in specific means. To begin with, you should know that an idiom is a word or a group of words that has a figurative meaning attached to it. Therefore what the word(s) mean isn’t easily deduced from the literal meaning of the words themselves. This is why you have to look more at the phrase itself instead of the words in specific.
When you tell someone that it’s come “straight from the horse’s mouth” you’re saying that the information you’ve received has come directly from an authoritative source. In other words, there’s no middleman involved who could either interpret or dilute the information in some way. The source itself is someone whom you trust implicitly.
This saying was coined somewhere around the turn of the twentieth century within horse racing circles. With this in mind, we can think of the information as having come from the racehorse himself. Some people believe that the saying was first used in reference to checking a horse’s teeth to see what their physical shape was like so you’d know if he could win a race. While this saying may have originated here, today it’s used in a lot of different situations when someone is trying to say that they’ve received the information from an impeccable source – that they’ve confirmed the information from the best source possible.
Some other ways of saying that something has come “straight from the horse’s mouth” include:
- To hear something first-hand
- To receive information directly from the source
- To get information from a dependable or reliable source
- To have received the information from the highest possible authority
- To be told something who has personal knowledge of the subject
Understanding how Idioms are Used
“Straight from the horse’s mouth” is an idiom. This means that it’s a phrase that carries a figurative meaning that’s quite different from its literal meaning. It’s used to add value to a sentence. In doing so it always refers to something other than what’s signified by each individual word. In this case, the hidden meaning is that you’ve received some important information straight from the source.
You’ll find idioms in all languages as speakers use them to clearly and effectively communicate their ideas. Non-native speakers use them to help them sound more fluent. It also helps them to understand other people better. A few of the other reasons why idioms are so important include:
- They help you say a lot of things in only a few words.
- They enrich the language by making conversation less monotonous and funnier.
- They’re nicer to listen to than a lot of long, drawn-out speech.
- They help you sound like a native speaker of the language.
Unfortunately, idioms can also be frustrating and embarrassing, especially when you don’t understand what someone is trying to say. There are a lot of them being used today which is why it’s important to take some time to learn the meaning of the most popular ones. If you’re not a native English speaker you may find that they’re difficult to use because their meanings are so unpredictable. This is because idioms can’t be taken literally like you would be able to take the rest of the English language. Like with “straight from the horse’s mouth” you’re talking about information coming straight from a source, not a talking horse.
Understanding idioms helps boost your conversational English skills since they’re oftentimes found in both spoken and written conversations. Being able to use idioms shows that you understand the language’s cultural meaning.
Now that you understand that “straight from the horse’s mouth” means that the information we have is reliable, you may want to use this phrase in a sentence. Here are a few ways in which you can do so:
- I know this is true because I got it straight from the horse’s mouth.
- You’ve heard the truth because I know it came straight from the horse’s mouth.
- I won’t believe that’s correct until I’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
- You don’t have to believe me. You can get it straight from the horse’s mouth.
- I know that it’s going to happen because I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
- Don’t trust what you hear from the grapevine. Only trust what you hear straight from the horse’s mouth.
- Why would you listen to the rumor mongers when you can get it straight from the horse’s mouth?
- It’s true because it came straight from the horse’s mouth.
- I won’t believe that she did it until I hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.
- If you don’t believe what I’m telling you, go get it straight from the horse’s mouth.
- She was a bit of a gossip, so if even came straight from the horse’s mouth that one time it was difficult to believe her.
Regardless of where this phrase may have originated from, “straight from the horse’s mouth” still means the same thing. It’s typically used when you’re trying to state that you’ve heard a piece of information directly from a reliable source.
Now that you have this understanding of the phrase and see how it can be used in sentences hopefully you’ll feel more comfortable using it in your speech and writing. After all, when we feel confident and certain of what we are doing it is always easy and it results in a better final result.