I just read mortgaged to the teeth, which I think sounds really weird.

I'm used to "armed to the teeth" and "mortgaged to the hilt", but I've no idea what the metaphorical connotations are in either of those.

Is "armed to the teeth" a mixed metaphor?

EDIT: I'm sure I never registered or posted anything on the site linked to above, but prompted by @Hot Licks's comment I just tried to follow it now, and got the message Sorry Guest, you are banned from using this forum! Spammer.

Whatever - here's a link to a handful of written instances in Google Books.

  • I think it is a mixed metaphor, but I can think of a decent explanation: you're so deep in debt you had to offer your teeth as collateral? – MT_Head Jan 7 '12 at 22:49
  • Actually, expressions on the line of "mortgaged up to his neck" are not uncommon, so being mortgaged to the teeth would simply imply a bit deeper still. – Hot Licks Oct 24 '15 at 17:56
  • (And perhaps you'd care to quote some of the context, since most here will not care to register for that site in order to view it.) – Hot Licks Oct 24 '15 at 17:56
  • @Hot Licks: I don't care to register for that site! Where do they get off, calling me a spammer? – FumbleFingers Oct 24 '15 at 18:35

Armed to the teeth is an expression where the idea behind it is, you are carrying so many weapons all over, that in order to fit them all in you had to carry one in your mouth, i.e. clenched between your teeth. (X)ed to the teeth would carry the idea of 'extremely prepared for' some event where you need (X).

For (X)ed to the hilt, the idea is comparing the (X) or whatever thing allows you to do or use (X) to a sword, where the area from the tip to the hilt is the entire usable, functional area, so you have made the absolute maximum usage possible of the thing in question.

Being mortgaged to the hilt means that you have gotten the largest mortgage possible, you are at the absolute limit of your creditworthiness, and you couldn't possibly carry any more debt without sinking.

Being mortgaged to the teeth would mean that you are prepared with more mortgages than any person would ever consider reasonable. I would have to assume that the one who is "mortgaged to the teeth" is prepared to issue mortgages, but honestly the "to the teeth" metaphor is such a bad fit for the idea of mortgages that it's hard to make sense of it.

More likely the intent behind the expression was something like mortgaged up to the eyebrows, which, much like to the hilt, would mean basically to the maximum extent possible or perhaps even a bit more, where the ability to pay off the debt is actually in question.


I'm guessing mortgaged to the hilt implies you've borrowed as much as you can so you can't go in any deeper. That makes sense.

There have been a couple of threads over at the phrase finder that didn't come to a conclusion about armed to the teeth: Thread 1, Thread 2.

Armed to the teeth to me implies that someone is carrying so much armament that they literally have some in their teeth.

In that light it isn't a mixed metaphor. Of course it's also complete speculation.

The earliest use of Armed to the teeth I could find was in 1757:

I started up and saw the gaoler, sword in hand, the four turnkeys, and all the soldiers of the guard, armed to the teeth.

And I suppose it would have been more likely for someone to have a knife or dagger in those days, than a gun, so the metaphor would have been more easily coined.

Also, looking at it that way, mortgaged to the teeth doesn't really make sense, since you don't physically carry mortgages.

On the other hand, if the speculation that armed to the teeth just means armed to excess and has no physical origin, then mortgaged to the teeth does make sense. I've not heard the phrase before.


According to A Collection of Confusable Phrases: False 'friends' and 'enemies' in Idioms and Collocations by Yuri Dolgopolov, "to the teeth" can mean fully armed our completely involved, and gives an example of being mortgaged to the teeth.


Not sure if it is true, but I saw another reference to the Knights in armor, being armored head to toe, or armed to the teeth, I feel the knife in the teeth reference sounds better, however, it would seem that the knight in armor reference may be an earlier use of this if in fact it is true... I found it mentioned here: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/armed+to+the+teeth

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