I understand also that it means to acquire a new skill, yet what does it refer to? It renders me cringe eincredibly time I read it!



OP is mistaken about the precise interpretation of the expression. It"s not about obtaining "new" abilities, but around how you acquired started on the abilities you already have actually. Here"s a meaning from dictionary.com

cut one"s teeth on: to carry out at the start of one"s education and learning, career, etc., or in one"s youth: The hunter boasted of having actually cut his teeth on tigers.

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It"s a metaphoric referral to as soon as a baby"s teeth first appear. They grow (cut) through the gums - often paincompletely, which also provides us the figurative intake teething troubles.

Once the baby has actually "reduced its teeth", it"s correctly equipped for the all-vital "real-world" task of chewing solid food (metaphorically, for tackling even more facility problems in expert life, and so on.).

As that dictionary instance says, the expression is frequently offered boastfully/facetiously (in reality the hunter most likely began via a lot much less challenging prey, such as grubs, mice, and also rabbits).

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edited May 4 "19 at 19:28

Ricarexecute Stuven
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FumbleFingers"s answer describes the literal meaning of "cut teeth on ," from which the idiomatic use of the term arises. My answer concentrates instead on two various other beginning issues: once the phrase in its literal sense first showed up, and when the figurative feeling arised.

To judge from assorted Google Books and Elephind searcs, the origin of the literal and also figurative senses of "cut teeth on " is a lot later than I had meant.

Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997) reports that the expression goes ago a number of hundred years:

reduced one"s teeth on Also, reduced one"s eyeteeth on. Get one"s initially experience by doing, or learn early in life, as in I cut my teeth on his sort of layout or He reduced his eyeteeth on magazine editing. This term alludes to the literal verb to cut teeth, meaning to have teeth initially emerge with a baby"s gums," a usage dating from he late 1600s.

This entry argues that the phrase "reduced teeth" is fairly old, so initially let"s look at that expression.

Early instances of "reduced teeth"

Ammer"s dating matches the OED"s, which lists instances of cut in the conmessage of emerging baby teeth from 1677 and also 1694. From The Compact Edition of the Oxford muzic-ivan.info Dictionary (1971):

To reduced a tooth, one"s teeth : to have them show up through the gums; likewise fig. to end up being discovering, attain to discretion ; so reduced one"s eyeteeth. 1677 LADY HATTON in Hatton Corr. (1878) 148 Poor little bit Susana is exceptionally ill about her teeth. I hope in God they will not be lengthy before they be reduced. 1694 Congreve Double Dealer II. iv, Like a child that was cutting his teeth.

Lady Hatton"s use of the phrase occurs in a letter to her husband also, dated March 31, 1677, in Correspondence of the Family of Hatton, Chiefly Letters Addressed to Christopher First Viscount Hatton, volume 1 (1878):

Poor bit Susana is very ill around her teeth. I hope in God they will not be long prior to they be cut. Shee bares it with a great deal of patience.

And below is a little even more context for the instance from William Congreve, The Double Dealer (1694):

Cynthia. Pray, Sir, stay, hear him, I dare affirm he"s Innocent.

Sir Paul Plyant. Innocent! Why hark"ee, come hither Thy, hark"ee, I had actually it from his Aunt, my Sister Touchwood,——gads-bud he does not care a Farthing for any kind of Thing of thee, yet thy Portion, why he"s in love via my Wife; he would have tantaliz"d thee, and made a Cuckold of thy negative Father,——and that would certainly absolutely have damaged my Heart—I"m certain if ever I should have actually Horns, they would certainly kill me; they would never come kindly, I have to die of "em, favor a Child, that was cutting his Teeth——I must indeed, Thy—therefore come away; however Providence has prevented all, therefore come amethod. once I bid you.

Cynthia. I must obey.

Google Books searches find numerous instances of "reduced teeth" from the eighteenth century. But throughout that century, muzic-ivan.info usage appears not yet to have actually begun dealing with "teeth cutting" as a procedure that centrally requires cutting teeth on some object. A recurring advertisement in The Country Journal, Or The Craftsman (March 17, 1750, via May 26, 1750), for instance, promotes numerous treatises "Given Gratis," including this one:

The TREATISE to make Children Presently Cut their Teeth, through a little Remedy to OPEN their GUMS.

This is not to say that human being didn"t offer infants objects to bite throughout teething in the 1700s. A note dated October 24, 1751, from Ben Franklin to his sister Jane Mecom, republished in Letters of Benjamin Franklin and Jane Mecom (2015) establishes that they did:

My compliments to my brand-new niece, Miss Abiah, and pray her to accept the enclosed item of gold, to cut her teeth; it might after that buy nuts for them to crack.

But the phrasing "reduced teeth on " does not begin showing up in the search outcomes until the 1800s.

Early literal instances of "reduced teeth on "

The earliest Google Books/Elephind search results for "reduced teeth on " are from the middle of the nineteenth century, and also this advancement appears to have originated in the United States. From "Tattlers," in the Jeffersonian Republican (November 9, 1843):

"It has been shelp for the well known Colonel Crockett that he was fautched down upon a raft and also rocked in a bee gum. The stranger, whatever may come to be his name hereafter, may boast that he was rocked to sleep in the shell of a swamp snapping turtle, lounged on a panther"s hide, was fanned by a wild turkey"s tail, and reduced his teeth on an alligator"s tusk! Beat this that can."—Courier.

From Thomas Read, The Pilgrims of the Great St. Bernard, serialized in Graham"s Magazine (April 1853):

But no, his vanity called for none—the royal personal pronoun "we" would certainly have fallen as quickly and naturally from his lips, as if he had actually reduced his teeth on the end of a sceptre instead of a spoon-handle, and also had actually been cradled on the thramong the Georges rather of in a New Hampshire sugar-tunstable.

Day Lee, Merrimack: Or, Life at the Loom; a Tale (1854):

Others comments were made on the book, and also Miss Mumby check out the chapter on "Idealism," and also cried, "I will not attempt to understand it—so here! It is unfit even for a baby to cut her teeth on." But others admired. Anna Logan felt even more beauty than she can expush, and said, "Miss Mumby understands through her elbows, I think."

From "Fancy Biography of Dr. Kane, the Arctic Explorer," in the Wide West (April 6, 1856):

Little by little bit he came to be habituated to ordinary temperature, however his predilections for the ice and also everything cold ongoing. Nothing, once fairly an infant, soothed him so easily as an icicle, and he reduced his teeth on a beautiful specimales of icespar and the plaything which a lot of pleased him was a thermometer, which he delighted to plunge into Cold water.

From "Epistle from John Bolivar," in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (June 17, 1858):

Prisoners have actually three meals a day—principally Indian meal. Never permitted fowl for their fare. Coffee incredibly weak, and when it stands as well lengthy tright here are plenty of grounds for complaint. Can"t say it is troubled via consumption, though. On Sundays and also other holidays have actually great dumplings. Taste as if they were made of gutta percha and stuffed with tape. Last a month, among them will.—Good for children to cut their teeth on. Boys in the neighborhood sometimes play sphere through them—bounce beautitotally.

From the Boston Saturday Gazette (June 22, 1861), redeveloped in The Rebellion Record: A Diary of Amerihave the right to Events, through Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry Etc. (1862):

This is the image of a Southerner that abuses the North : He toils not, neither does he spin. Swaddled at birth in a Northern blanket, cutting his teeth on a Northern gum-ring, solacing bis sweet tooth on Northern candies, learning his letters from a Northern book, educated at a Northern college, finding out his gentility and obtaining all his refinements in Northern social circles—he still looks upon the North as a foreign country, an area altogether plebeian and uncivilized, ...

And from "Presents," in Frank Leslie"s Illustrated Family Almanac (1865):

Of all the traditional presents, those offered at christenings and also weddings are the the majority of unsatisfactory. Christening gifts, indeed, are ssuggest detesecure from initially to last. Those typical mugs which are never drank from; those silver spoons and also forks, which carry out not enhance with the family set, and also have actually always a maimed, one-legged look on the table; those absurd corals and also bells, which are never before offered as playpoints. but which are expected to do duty as mysterious tools for “baby to cut its teeth on;" those arbitrary offerings of robes and also hoods, the tribute exacted from the unlucky sinner singled out for this distinct penance—what are they however oppressive shams, which carry out no great to the small receiver, are intolerable nuisances to the overtaxed givers?

"Early figurative instances of "cut teeth on "

The earliest motion towards figurative supplies of "reduced teeth on " take the form of exaggerations such as (speaking of the insophisticated of a future UNITED STATE political figure) "reduced his teeth on a copy of the Constitution." But this is still a baby (allegedly) cutting its teeth on somepoint that arguably could be provided for the purpose—and so is not essentially various from the tall tale around Davy Crockett and his alligator tusk, and certainly not a pudepend figurative use.

The initially Google Books/Elephind search result that may cross the line into truly nonliteral usage of "cutting teeth on " shows up in Harriet Spofford, "A Stroke of Luck," in the Milan Exchange (April 23, 1874):

And so we lived; for father—having actually been born in the latter days of the family members prosperity, having actually been weaned, so to say, on the legends of its former state, cutting his teeth on the crust of the Featherstonehaugh grandeur, and putting on his initially knickerbockers with a feeling of coronation roles while a score of servants kowtowed at his bit bidding—never before, even now that the entirety was dust and also ashes, could acquire over the feeling that it was all momentary adversity, that the king in exile was imperial still; the concept of noblesse oblige held a stiff rod over his head, and also he couldn"t carry out this, and he must perform that, because he was a Featherstonehaugh.

Even below, the metaphor lies in the point used for teething, not in the infancy of the baby in question. But that vestige of literal accuracy is nowright here to be discovered in an example that showed up two years later on. From "Current Items," in the Memphis Daily Appeal (March 5, 1876):

Women are turning their attention to the insurance agency organization. After this there is nopoint left for their power to reduced its teeth on however peddling lightning-rods.

Also, from Carrie Shove, "Spanalysis the Toils," in Wedded and also Saved! (1882):

"We are friends," I said.

"Friends!" he changed. "If we were all unsophisticated infants, in initially bibs and tuckers, we could think in that humbug; yet we have all cut our teeth on somepoint more than corals or ivory rings."

"You are insolent, Arthur Wyndham!" I retorted.

From Lewis Day, "The Lowly Arts," in The Art Journal (1882):

And wbelow tright here is no question of genius, our initiatives are instinctively, if not consciously, directed to what we apprehfinish it is in us to attain. We begin, it is true, by leaving out of account our want of education and also experience, and also set to work-related to reduced our teeth on an epic poem or historical picture; but as soon as once we resolve dvery own to occupational, after the initially ebullition of enthusiasm, we shortly begin to check out (if we have actually any bent or faculty at all) wherein our opportunity lies, and also wherein our weakness.

From "Not a Bunco Man at the Conference," in the Sun (May 13, 1888):

Two pocketpublications have actually been lost, yet in neither situation is the loser positive that his loss arisen inside or about tho Opera Housage. Capt. Reilly"s male believe that if any kind of theft hits taken place in the Conference, it has actually been committed by some aspiring young thief who is cutting his teeth on the delegates, and also is not yet well-known to fame or the police.

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From "W.C.T.U. Day: The Chautauqua Exercises Were Very Interelaxing," in the Salt Lake Herald (August 16, 1892):

The birth of the temperance activity was not known. In 1817 the first Irish pledge was taken by 3 men and also they preserved it until they died. The motion had actually occurred from an infant into a solid man but it had to reduced its teeth on sarcasm.

And from "A Spasm of Virtue," in Kate Field"s Washington (December 13, 1893):

I wish I thought the millennium would certainly arrive as soon as women vote. Tbelow is no doubt they deserve it as a lot as males, but I question whether womales will certainly be a little wiser in the usage of the ballot than their fathers, brothers and husbands. I check out no acquire in Wyoming. ... I hope and also pray for the ideal, believing that inevitably woguys will be a beneficent factor in government. Until they cut their teeth on many kind of mistakes, yet, I execute not look for cheerful outcomes.


The sequence of appearance of the pertinent phrases starts via the arrival of "reduced teeth" by 1677. Next comes the literal feeling of "reduced teeth on ," which appears by 1843. And lastly, the purely figurative feeling of "cut teeth on " has actually arised by 1876.