Posted by: Jack Henry | February 23, 2016

Editor’s Corner: In the doghouse

This past weekend, my husband and I went to two beach outings. We visited the sunken ship on Coronado, and we attended a doggy birthday beach party. Richard Lederer, our local English expert, wrote this article in honor of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and I thought now would be the perfect time to talk more about dogs in our language. Enjoy!

Note: Newspapers use a different style guide than we do, so some of this punctuation (or lack thereof) seems a bit off.

This is a good time, then, to talk about how the canine expressions trot, scamper and bark through our English language.

We call a tenacious person a bulldog, a showoff a hot dog, a fortunate person a lucky dog, a man with an active social life a gay dog who puts on the dog and a rapscallion a cur or dirty dog. A dominant person is a top dog who can run with the big dogs, while his counterpart is an underdog. Some of us lead a dog’s life going to the dogs in the doghouse. Others are young pups in puppy love.

As long ago as AD 1150, the learned St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, "Qui me amat, amat et canem meam." That translates to Love me, love my dog, an expression of the astonishing interspecies bond between dogs and human beings. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century tale of "Troilus and Creseyde," the poet writes, "It is nought good a sleping hound to wake," which comes down to us as Let sleeping dogs lie. These are dog-eared phrases, so-called because a page in a well-worn book can get folded over like the ear of a dog.

Another phrase derived from literature is in the doghouse, which means "to be out of favor." This phrase was born in James Barrie’s 1904 play "Peter Pan." Mr. Darling, the father of the three children, is punished for his shabby treatment of Nana, the Newfoundland dog who is also the children’s nurse. And where does he spend his exile? In Nana’s doghouse, of course.

There abound a number of explanations for it’s raining cats and dogs, including the fact that felines and canines were closely associated with the rain and wind in Norse mythology. In Odin days, dogs were often pictured as the attendants of Odin, the storm god, and cats were believed to cause storms. Another theory posits that during heavy rains in 17th-century England, some city streets became raging rivers of filth carrying many drowned cats and dogs. But the truth appears to be more mundane. Cats and dogs make a lot of noise when they fight (hence, fighting like cats and dogs), so they have become a metaphor for a noisy rain or thunderstorm. Sometimes dogs fight with other dogs over a single bone, a dust-up that gives us the phrase bone of contention.

A three-dog night is not only a popular music group of the 1970s, but a night so cold that one must sleep with three dogs in order to generate enough body heat to be comfortable.

In the early 19th century in American English, barker came to signify the person who stands outside a carnival or circus to shout (bark) out its attractions to passersby. From the same period arose the expression barking up the wrong tree because hunting dogs can mistakenly crowd around the base of a tree thinking they have treed a raccoon that has actually taken a different route. The phrase is still used to mean wasting one’s energy by pursuing the wrong path.

Another classic Americanism is hot dog. In the 19th century United States, some folks suspected that sausages were made from dog meat. When hot sausages in a bun became popular, it was but a short leap to the term hot dog. Cartoonist Tad Dorgan featured the hot dog in some of his sports cartoons, helping to popularize the new name. That the sausage looks a little like the body of a dachshund also helped hot dog to cleave to the American palate.

That’s all I have for you today. To read the article in its entirety, click here: Richard Lederer and the San Diego U-T.

Happy Bella

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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