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OED Thursday: “Dog”

I believe it was kelly g who wanted to know about "dog" according to the OED. The tertiary definition is:

 "Applied to a person;    a. in reproach, abuse, or contempt: A worthless, despicable, surly, or cowardly fellow."

The first instance of this was way back in 1325. Shakespeare even later used it (1591, 1596), and so did Tennyson (1880).

I was surprised to see, directly following the above:

   b. playfully (usually in humorous reproof, congratulation, or commiseration): A gay or jovial man, a gallant; a fellow, ‘chap’. Usually with adj. such as cunning, jolly, lucky, sad, sly, etc. to be dog at: see to be old dog at.

That's new to me and the usage begins in 1618 and continues to the 1900s.

There's also:

    e. An informer; a traitor; esp. one who betrays fellow criminals. U.S. and Austral. slang.

That one was from 1846-1969.

One you've likely heard, and is unique to the 20th century (and into the 21st)  is: 

    f. Something poor or mediocre; a failure. U.S. slang.

I've always wondered about "dogs" used to mean "feet." Well it turns out that's short for "dog's meat" and was seen first in 1924 ("You'll pick up your dogs and run around  . . . .")

Oddly, a horse can be a dog, as a horse that is slow and difficult to handle, at least in the 20th century, can be known as a dog. " A ‘dog’ means a horse who cannot be relied upon to do his best..a horse may be a ‘dog’ because there is something wrong with him." At least they didn't say "it."

There are many phrases and proverbs that refer to dogs in one way or another, including:
  • to the dogs
  • thrown to the dogs 
  • to die like a dog 
  • the hair of the dog that bit you 
  • to see a man about a dog 
  • dog-eat-dog 
  • like a dog with two tails (that means very pleased, if you were wondering) 

Now, as of September 2007, the following was added:

 * slang (derogatory, usu. considered offensive). orig. U.S. An unattractive woman or girl. Also (occas.): an unattractive man.

1937 J. WEIDMAN I can get It for You Wholesale xxi. 203, I don't like to have a bunch of dogs floating around. While I'm at it, I might as well hire something with a well-turned ass and a decently uplifted tit. 1948 I. SHAW Young Lions xix. 345 She had fat legs and the seams of her stockings were crooked, as always. Why is it, Lewis thought automatically, why is it the dogs are the ones that join up? 1968 C. F. BAKER et al. College Undergraduate Slang Study (typescript), Dog, an ugly person, male. An ugly person, female. 1997 Cosmopolitan (U.K. ed.) Aug. 66/1 Pretty well anyone could have stood next to the guys in Take That and looked like a dog. They were great-looking guys. 2003 K. CORUM Other Woman 20 ‘If she's a dog, I am going to be so pissed off at you.’ ‘Arthur, this is not a date.’ 

I had no idea "dog" was used in so many different ways. And that's just the nouns, and it excludes the obvious ones that actually have something to do with canines. Also, dog, as in to "hound" someone, and other verb-usages, has its own page.

I thought I'd get to at least one other word today, but alas . . . I'm already running late! Send me words, and on Thursdays I'll give you some highlights from the OED.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dan #

    "Violence" might be an interesting word for the OED. It's what we oppose, but some people believe it extends to e.g. property damage. Slaughter is always violent, but when is property damage violent? (Note: I'm not taking sides on this question of line-drawing on the definition of violence, but I am interested in what the OED might contribute to the discussion.)

    February 19, 2009
  2. Thank you, Mary! There are a number of usages I didn't even consider. And "dogs" as slang for feet, originating from dog meat? Ugh.

    Similar to Dan's suggestion, the history of the term "terrorism" might make for interesting reading, too.

    February 20, 2009
  3. Thank you for such a nice post, it's well written.

    November 22, 2009

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