An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a proverb that dates to ancient times. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that may be a famous quote, an inspirational quote, an epigram, or the topic of a parable. These common sayings are language tools or figures of speech that particularly give advice or share a universal truth, or impart wisdom. Synonyms for proverb include adage, aphorism, sayings, and byword, which can also be someone or something that is the best example of a group. Often, a proverb is so familiar that a speaker will only quote half of it, relying on the listener to supply the ending of the written or spoken proverb himself because these common phrases and popular sayings are so well known. Certain phrases may be a metaphor or a quotation; but if it is a proverb, it is often-used and has a figurative meaning. Speakers of English as a second language are sometimes confused by these pithy sayings as translations from English to other languages do not carry the impact that the English phrases carry. Some common proverbs are the wise sayings better late than never; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; an apple a day keeps the doctor away; don’t cry over spilt milk; actions speak louder than words; haste makes waste, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. One of the books of the Bible is the Book of Proverbs, which contains words and phrases that are still often quoted in the English language because they are wise. Many current proverbs are quotations taken from literature, particularly Shakespeare, as well as the Bible and other sacred writings. We will examine the meaning of the proverb an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, where the expression came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth means to mete out retribution in kind, to make someone suffer as he has made someone else suffer. The expression an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is derived from the Code of Hammurabi, a system of 282 laws organized by the Mesopotamian king, Hammurabi, who reigned until 1750 B.C. One of the punishments prescribed in the code was: “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.” The sentiment was later included in the Bible. In Leviticus 24:19: “And whoever causes an injury to a neighbor must receive the same kind of injury in return: Broken bone for broken bone, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” It must be noted that later, in the New Testament, the passage is quoted and countermanded with the admonition to turn the other cheek. Today, the proverb an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is often shortened to the first part, an eye for an eye, with the expectation that the listener or reader can supply the second half of the proverb, a tooth for a tooth.


Unfortunately, he said, most people “believe in hitting for hitting; they believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; they believe in hating for hating; but Jesus comes to us and says, ‘This isn’t the way.’” (Christian Post)

People with power, he suggests, can take a literal revenge on their enemies: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. (New York Review)

“Tit for tat, an eye for an eye, doesn’t give stability or security.” (Salt Lake Tribune)

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