The Origins of Popular Dog-Inspired PhrasesFebruary 28th, 2013
Everyone knows that dogs are often referred to as “man’s best friend” and, of course, after a heavy night of partying, someone might just need a little “hair of the dog” to get themselves going in the morning. But while both of these phrases are doggone popular, where exactly do they come from? And, in some cases, what do they have to do with dogs?
While the etymology of words and the history of phrases are always rife with mystery – we are, after all, talking about the dark ages before internet or cell phone cameras – it’s still interesting to look into where these terms found their footing and took off into common speech. Consider these examples.
“Hair of the dog” – This phrase is short for “hair of the dog that bit you,” and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, has referred to an alcoholic cure for a hangover since at least 1546, although it originated as a home brew remedy for rabies that was most assuredly not the least bit effective.
“Dogs of war” – You might’ve run across this phrase once or twice, especially if you’ve studied Shakespeare. This reference comes from William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan play, “Julius Caesar,” specifically the line: “Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!” as delivered by Marc Antony over the body of Caesar, who had been killed by a group of traitors.
“Doggone” – Often thought of as a euphemism for a more colorful curse word, it is commonly thought to derive from the Scottish dagone or “gone to the dogs.”
“Dog Days” – These are often referred to as the hottest days of the year typically being in the July and August months. These days coincide with the appearance of the constellation Sirius, the Dog Star, in the same part of the sky as the sun. The Romans believed Sirius added to the heat of the sun, causing extreme temperatures and appropriately named this part of the year the dog days.
“Man’s best friend” - Psychology Today magazine has the story of this phrase, which is a variation on the old saying “A man’s best friend is his dog.” According to the source, the phrase can be traced back to a transcript from an 1870 trial in Missouri. A hound by the name of Old Drum was the favored dog of a local farmer, Charles Burden. A neighboring farmer blamed Old Drum for several livestock deaths and had a group of hired hands put the dog down. Burden, bereft, quickly sued – and before you know it, things escalated to the Supreme Court. During the trial, a state senator named George G. Vest took a personal interest in the case and delivered the case’s closing arguments, a rousing and moving speech for any dog lover. Though Vest never used the exact phrase, the sentiment is there and it makes for a tear-jerking read.
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