What does It Mean to "Cut Your Teeth on Something"?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
The expression "cut your teeth", which probably comes from the painful realities of human dental development, refers to gaining your first significant experience of something.
The expression "cut your teeth", which probably comes from the painful realities of human dental development, refers to gaining your first significant experience of something.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and that's the philosophy behind the phrase cut your teeth. To cut your teeth on something means to gain your first significant experience. Someone who is a trained chef, for example, might have gotten his start flipping hamburgers when he was a teenager. A computer expert could have done so working on the first Apple II PCs. Whatever a person's field of expertise may be, he most likely cut his teeth working with less sophisticated equipment at an early age.

High-profile chefs have often "cut their teeth" in entry level positions.
High-profile chefs have often "cut their teeth" in entry level positions.

The expression cut your teeth most likely evolved from the sometimes painful realities of human dental development. Many young adults experience an eruption of third molars known as "wisdom teeth." Sometimes the eruption, or cutting, of these wisdom teeth is a relatively painless experience, but other times a painful crowding situation arises. These extra teeth may have to be surgically removed if their presence becomes problematic. Because the eruption of wisdom teeth or "eye teeth" often coincides with a young adult's first real work experience, the association between the two rites of passage most likely seemed inevitable.

Young adults often experience pain from erupting wisdom teeth.
Young adults often experience pain from erupting wisdom teeth.

Cutting your teeth on a particular machine or entry-level project may or may not be a satisfying experience at the time, but it often prepares you for more challenging duties. A professional chef in training, for example, may start out making salads or appetizers at a small restaurant. The job itself may be very demanding or repetitive or tedious, but if the chef should ever have to fill in for a missing salad maker years later, he or she would have the necessary skills to do it. By starting with basic equipment and procedures, you often develop a sense of mastery that could prove useful as your career advances.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular InfoBloom contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular InfoBloom contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

Crispety

GreenWeaver - I think that is a great idea. I know that some schools offer internships and externships so that their graduates will have some form of experience upon graduation.

It really makes it easier to gain that first real job out of school. I think that now more than ever students are realizing how important internships are because jobs are becoming harder to come by.

GreenWeaver

When I think of the term “Cut your teeth “I always think of the entry level job someone has right out of college.

I cut my teeth in retail management before I moved into the staffing industry. There I learned valuable experience on managing people and interviewing potential new hires.

I think that a great way many people cut their teeth into an industry is by performing an internship with a company while in school.

My sister in law worked for a prominent architectural firm in Miami while in college. When she graduated she was offered a full time position and later went on to work on the World Trade Center memorial project with a New York City firm.

An internship is a great way to gain experience that you can spring board into other more lucrative work.

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    • The expression "cut your teeth", which probably comes from the painful realities of human dental development, refers to gaining your first significant experience of something.
      The expression "cut your teeth", which probably comes from the painful realities of human dental development, refers to gaining your first significant experience of something.
    • High-profile chefs have often "cut their teeth" in entry level positions.
      High-profile chefs have often "cut their teeth" in entry level positions.
    • Young adults often experience pain from erupting wisdom teeth.
      Young adults often experience pain from erupting wisdom teeth.
    • Wisdom teeth may be surgically removed if their presence causes problems.
      Wisdom teeth may be surgically removed if their presence causes problems.