Today’s post isn’t likely to lead to improved dental habits. It falls squarely in the fun-to-know category. Hey, we’re dental trivia geeks and can’t help ourselves. Below, the friendly folks at Kildaire Family & Cosmetic Dentistry present to you our top three favorite dental idioms and their origins. You have our permission to impress your friends with these three bits of dental idiom trivia.
Fight Tooth and Nail?
This first dental idiom is so common that it made it into the Dictionary of Cliches. If you hear someone is “fighting tooth and nail”, you know they mean business! But where did the phrase originate exactly? Did gladiators fight battles using only their teeth and nails? Actually… no. The expression has Latin origins, and was almost certainly always used figuratively, not literally fighting with your teeth. Thank goodness, that would be terrible for tooth enamel!
While originally traced back to “holding” rather than “fighting” with one’s teeth, the first English reference of the word occurred in 1535 in Sir Thomas More’s “A Dialogue of Comfort and Tribulation”, where he wrote, “They would faine kepe them as long as ever they might, even with tooth and naile.”
Skin of Your Teeth
Ever used or heard the idiom “by the skin of your teeth”? It’s used to communicate a close call of some sort. For example, “The Tarheels avoided a Duke upset by the skin of their teeth.” You’re probably aware that teeth don’t actually have skin. They have enamel. But let’s not ruin a great idiom by splitting hairs about it (another great idiom)!
So where does the phrase come from? This enduring dental idiom is attributable to Job in the Old Testament. While relating his close calls with death, Job stated, “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”
We’ve all been scolded before. When that scolding comes from someone with authority over us, we’ll often say we’ve been “chewed out” by that person. The origins of this idiom aren’t quite as clear as our first examples. One clear implication is the imagery of a subordinate being verbally and metaphorically eaten up by someone in a position of authority. There’s some speculation that the idiom really gained traction in the US Armed Forces during World War II. Soldiers who received loud reprimands often spoke of being chewed up or chewed out by their superiors.
Thanks for reading our dental idioms! One final note: the year’s about to end. If you have dental insurance with calendar year benefits, you can still book an appointment at Kildaire Family & Cosmetic Dentistry with Dr. Brace and make it in by the skin of your teeth. Don’t get chewed out for missing out on your benefits! We’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure you get the quality dental care you and your family deserve.