In a post a couple of days ago, I noted (in snarky fashion) about how Tom Cruise (whom we'd just seen in the latest Mission Impossible installment) was a bit "long in the tooth" to be hanging from helicopters and fighting Bad Guys near the edge of an alpine cliff. I should talk: he's 56; I'm 73! The only helicopter ride I can look forward to is Life Flight.
And then, later, I wondered about that expression--"long in the tooth"--and thought I'd write about it today. But in the night I woke up with the suspicion that I'd already written about it on this site. I couldn't be sure--which, of course, is one of the problems with being long in the tooth, which I manifestly am.
Okay. Long in the tooth ...
Here's what my Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Harper & Row, 1977) says about it:
... originally applied to horses because their gums recede with age. It has long been applied to humans, both male and female. Thackeray used the expression way back in 1852, so it is well established in British English.
Let's check the Oxford English Dictionary ... [pause while I check] ...
Well, the OED confirms the equine origin--but finds an earlier reference;
1834 T. Medwin Angler in Wales II. 182 A brown gawky leggy Rozinante, very long in the tooth, and showing every bone in his skin, was generally ridden by his courier.
Now here's the weird coincidence--the Twilight Zone-y connection. Thomas Medwin (1788-1869). He was a second cousin of Percy Bysshe Shelley; he had been a schoolboy with him (though he was four years older than the poet); he later introduced Shelley to Edward John Trelawny, who arranged for the construction of the boat that capsized in July 1822 off the coast of Viareggio and drowned the 29-year-old poet. Also drowned was Edward Williams, a Medwin friend whom he'd introduced to the Shelleys; later, Medwin wrote a biography--The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1847). Mary was not happy about it.
In his biography--which I read back in June 1998--he has a sentence that now makes me both smile and grimace: The water, he wrote of his cousin, was his fatal element (316). Duh.
Well, this post has displayed some typical writing from someone who's long in the tooth, eh? Rambling on and on about some guy from the 19th century who has only a slender connection to what I'm supposed to be writing about?
Okay. Another connection ...
In a couple of weeks I'm having oral surgery--an implant to replace a worn (and decaying) tooth with a ... longer one. After that surgery I will actually be longer in the tooth than I am now.
Anyway, as I've gotten older, I've become more and more sensitive to disparaging comments about the elderly. Just this morning I overheard in the coffee shop some younger people chortling about the confusions of the elderly, about the need to, you know, put them away for their own safety, etc.
At that moment I wished I'd been really long in the tooth--saber-tooth-tiger-long--so I could ... you know ...