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In reference to the behaviour of a snail when it is threatened.


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pull in one's horns

  1. (idiomatic) To become less impassioned, aggressive, or argumentative; to exercise restraint; to yield or capitulate.
    • 1848, Anthony Trollope, The Kellys and the O'Kellys, ch. 7:
      Barry . . . stood, during this tirade, half stupefied with rage, and half frightened, at the open attack made on him. . . . However, he couldn't pull in his horns now, and he was obliged, in self-defence, to brazen it out.
    • 1904, Jack London, The Sea Wolf, ch. 9:
      "I see Cooky's finish," I heard Smoke say to Horner.
      "You bet," was the reply. "Hump runs the galley from now on, and Cooky pulls in his horns."
    • 1912, P. G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally, ch. 14:
      Anyone else would have pulled in his horns and gone slow for a spell, but he's one of those fellows whose horse is always going to win the next race.
    • 1950 Oct. 30, "The Press: Time to Pause," Time:
      Editor & Publisher Edwin Palmer Hoyt decided to pull in his horns. Said Hoyt: "We've decided it is time to pause, recapitulate and prepare to recommence."
    • 2003 April 6, Susan Warner, "Fighting Off the Chains," New York Times (retrieved 10 Sep 2012):
      "Smaller hardware stores in the area were scared," he said. "They stopped making investments. They pulled in their horns."