Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bishop - Filing For Da Horse

Bishop, Tamper, Fraud, Age, Selling, Equine,
I can confidently say I will never, ever, ever be tempted to kiss a horse.
(image by Leo Reynolds)


Verb trans. Early 18th century.
[from Bishop, a surname.]

File and tamper with the teeth of (a horse) to deceive as to age.

If you've ever thought about buying or selling a horse, you probably know that the traditional method of checking its age is to have a good root around in its mouth, checking its teeth for the typical growth and wear patterns of an aged animal. There have, however, always been less-than-saintly characters willing to give the horse a damn good pre-sale bishoping: that is, to get stuck into its teeth with files and blades so as to alter them and make the horse look younger. That's fraud, of course, but considering that it's fraudulently passing off old horses, it should at least be easy to make the charges stick.

Bishop, Equine, Fraud, Filing, Altering, Tampering, Age
"Hahaha! Make the charges stick! I love it!"
(photo by Toonbobo)

Dictionaries don't tell us who the eponymous Bishop was, nor how his name became associated with doing bad things inside a horse's mouth. In my mind, the mouth of an animal is a place a human should never be, although (apparently) there are legitimate reasons to be filing (or floating) a horse's teeth. Personally, I can think of few jobs more stomach-churning that forcibly prying open a stallion's jaws and manually grinding down those grostesquely gargantuan gnashers. But that's just me.

Incidentally, if you've ever wondered about the origin of the expressions "long in the tooth" (meaning old) and "never look a gift horse in the mouth" (meaning don't be such an ungrateful git), now you know.

Have you ever bishoped a horse? Would you like to bishop a horse? Is the recurrence of the word bishop making you as uncomfortable as me?

Do please leave your comments below ...

May the Horse Be With You!


  1. Horses have teeth in the back?! (I'm referring to the two solitary ones in their lower jaw) That looks really scary ><

    I always wondered about the "gifted horse" expression! I know next to nothing about animals (that aren't cats - I'm a woman and single, I have to like cats, it's the law), so I was like: yeah psht, whatever. So old horses have long teeth... who'd have thought.

    1. I've never heard it expressed as "gifted horse" - which sounds very funny.: "Never looked a particularly talented horse in the mouth" : o )

    2. You really shouldn't! It'll turn out to be one big disappointment!

    3. Having looked at too many photos of horses' mouths for this post, I don't think anyone should ever look in *any* horse's mouth - gifted or average, purchased or given - they were all pretty disgusting to me.

  2. I've never heard bishop used in that sense.
    And have no plans of doing any bishopping now or in the future!
    It doesn't make me stomach-sick though.
    Seen lots worse!
    PS I have kissed a horse! :)

    1. Ewwww, Jingles! Even without details (and I'm not asking for any) that's what they call TMI!

  3. I once kissed someone who was a bit hoarse, but it wasn't a bishop.


  4. Thanks for the definition! I was just reading A Civil Contract by G.Heyer and she used the term bishop in reference to a horse. Makes sense. I agree with the other commenters--pretty disgusting to see those teeth!

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