DOGGY DON’TAugust 26th, 2015
Ah, how we love them: movieland’s Lassie and Rinty, the Famous Five’s Timmy and the Outlaws’ Jumble, Tintin’s Snowy and Dorothy’s Toto, rancid Gaspode and prim Missis, noble Gelert and ever-attendant Bobby. Even Bullseye of Bill Sikes fame. See them rescue the hapless infant, see them adventure with plucky youngsters, see them savage innocent orphans, see them, yes it’s Bobby again, wait in vain. Woof-woof!
Slang, as ever, is less forgiving. The dog (see also mutt, cur, pooch and similar less than flattering synonyms) stands among the counter-language’s most well-used animals. But it’s like some linguistic version of vivisection: nary a pat, nary a stroke or kind word. These are not our best friends. Far from it. They poop, but we do not scoop. Bad dog!
And even by the standard of slang’s crowded pet shop (see cats and rats for instance), there are an awful lot of bad dogs on offer. If we include the phrases, compounds, derivatives and the rest of the linguistic mongrels that take their ancestry from the basic three letters, the word dog offers some 161 definitions. (And that’s not to mention those ‘dogs’ that are actually ‘gods’, as in such exclamations as dogdamn it! and dog blind me!, though who’s to say quite what’s happening with dog bite my ear! and as for dog my onions!. . .) It is impressive – not many words can mean (among so much else) a penis, an informer, miserliness and a cross-country bus – but it remains a grim picture.
Top, or should one say bottom of the bill is the earliest adoption: since the 16th century a dog has been an untrustworthy, treacherous, completely venal man and can be extended to women as well. William Dunbar, the early 16th century Scots poet, whose works give us the earliest recorded examples of some of the best-known obscenities, also offers in 1508 a less than appealing dog, who manages to incorporate a number of contemporary terrors, including sodomy and Islam: ‘Machomete, manesuorne, bugrist abhominabile, Devill, dampnit [damned] dog, sodymyte insatiable.’ Shakespeare, in Richard II, gives a clue as to just why the hapless canine has fallen so far from grace: ‘take heed of yonder dog: Look, when he fawns, he bites.’ Some say loyalty, the Bard, and slang, go for sucking up (and possibly back stabbing, or rather ‘biting’). That the word also referred to a horse that was difficult to handle does nothing to dilute the impact.
And while the cat is generally recognized as the ‘sexy’ beast, the dog gets its share. In one of slang’s cheerful paradoxes, the dog can mean both penis (which can of course be ‘stroked’) and vagina (also found around 1610 as a dog with a hole in its head.) Thus clapping the dog, stimulating a woman’s genitals with one’s fingers A dog can refer to a promiscuous man or woman and thence to a prostitute, especially the older and less appetizing of her sorority. Dog, bereft of any article, means sexual desire, thus doggish is lecherous or sexually obsessed. Though the randy dog may be unlucky with his own kind: the dog is also an unattractive woman.
Nor does the dog need to be a person. It can refer to something useless, worthless or broken down; a second-rate product or one that is hard to sell; a mediocre performance. It can signify unpleasantness, a bad characteristics, meanness, a disappointment, a failure and weakness or cowardice, typically in a boxer. (Used adjectivally, however, dog means cruelty or ruthlessness). And just to keep the negatives going, it can also mean ostentation or showiness, usually in the phrases put on dog, carry dog, do the dog, dog (up), pile or throw on dog. These all mean to show off, to put on airs; to do something energetically, noisily, although put on dog has a secondary meaning: to have sexual intercourse.
On with the beatings (not forgetting that to beat the dog means masturbate): The criminal world have always been ‘dog-lovers’ (and not merely of harnessed pit bulls). In all cases the slang stems from negative images: violence, disloyalty. The vicious dogs can represent any policeman – uniformed or plainclothes, but especially the more brutal of his species, a description that extends to prison officers. While we’re behind bars dog can also describe, in a woman’s prison, a girl who pursues (albeit only during her sentence) her fellow ‘bitches’, and in a male establishment, an older or tougher prisoner who exploits younger, weaker men as homosexual partners (such couples were also known as a jock and boxer but the reference is to underwear rather than species). As regards canine loyalty? Please. A dog, impressively one might suggest, can double as a pigeon (that variety that sits on the police station stool and ‘sings’). It is this type of dog that gives go or turn dog, defined variously as to become an informer, to inform on (one who is thus branded is on the dog); to become unkind (and treat someone cruelly); to let down, to ‘bite the hand that feeds you’, to be a coward and to betray and/or to take a bribe.
Dog offers a number combinations, none of them complimentary. the dog-booby (lit. a ‘male fool’) is a peasant or country bumpkin; dog breath is bad breath or one who has it; a dog-heart (for all that dogs are supposedly so brave) is a coward and a dog-driver, mocking him as one whose primary role is dog-catching, is a police officer. Dog-ass or dog-assed serves an all-purpose put-down. The dog days, in standard use referring to a period in which malignant influences prevail and a superstitious reference to the rising of the Dog Star, is found in slang as a synonym for the menstrual period. Perhaps the best known, if only historically now, is dogface. This US term started life in the late 19C to describe an unpleasant person, with its adjectival form dogfaced, stupid-looking and/or ugly. From there, in World War II it came to mean an infantryman, and was used as a calculated insult by disdainful members of the US Marine Corps, who scorn the gravel-pounders. A further possible link is the old Cheyenne War Society, founded during the Plains Wars, who called themselves Dog Soldiers.
So once it leaves the positive world of myths and legends, not to mention standard English, the dog’s negative role is quite unavoidable. Is there anything that can be rescued from the wreckage? Well, dog can, or rather could, be relatively neutral, just meaning a person, good or bad; it has meant a college freshman in the US; it has also meant a clever, cheery, hearty individual; especially in the affectionate phrase ‘you old dog’ or in the older concept a ‘jolly dog’. For Afro-Americans a dog has meant something or someone unusual or surprising, and more recently hip-hop has added more positive meanings: dog (also dawg and dogg) means a close friend and is often used as a term of address, usually man-to-man (‘Yo, dogg!‘). To be the dog (just like the man) is to be an admirable person. Raw dog, mercifully, is nothing to do with cooking: it’s sex without a condom.
To stick with the nouns there are yet still a number of other meanings. There is its abbreviation of hot dog, the spiced frankfurter slathered with mustard, popped in a bun and eaten by generations of pleasure-seekers. Standard English since around 1939, when it was served under that name by the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his guests, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the hot dog started life as slang. It probably comes from heavy-handed mid-19th century humour focusing on the supposed use of horse- and dog-meat as sausage filling, a concept that was accentuated by an 1843 scandal concerning the use of dog-meat for human consumption. The image was intensified by the use (c.1860) by German immigrants of Hundewurst, dog sausage, to mean smoked frankfurter sausages (larger sausages were Pferdwurst, ‘horse baloney’). The dachshund, of course, is a ‘sausage dog’. The modern term originated c.1895 at the Yale Club (as well as at Harvard, Cornell and other US ‘Ivy League’ colleges) where lunch wagons were known as ‘dog wagons’ and frankfurters known as ‘hot dogs’. Later cafes were dog joints, while the modern dog wagon refers to a small café or restaurant sited in a converted vehicle and to a van used for conveying prisoners. Linked, as it were, is dogcock, a modern N.Z. term that denotes any type of sausage. The filling of sausage meat is dog paste.
And the dog remains very versatile. It has been (in the Caribbean) a small copper or silver coin; for the early 19C underworld, and punning on the synonymous barker, it has been a pistol; it can be a state of drunkenness and the hangover that follows; to kill one’s dog means to get drunk (hence the invitation ‘let’s kill a dog’, after which, of course, comes the hair of the dog (that bit you). In Australia dog can also mean a drinking debt, while be on the dog list is to be barred from the pub. Australia also offers the dog license, since the 1940s a certificate of exemption from the prohibition of alcohol to Native Australians (under the Aborigines Protection Act 1909–43) that permits them to buy a drink in a hotel. Back in the UK, and back around 1600 (it was relaunched around 1850), dog-drunk is very drunk indeed. Still alcoholic, but quite separate, are the US terms dog, a pint bottle (470ml) of liquor and short dog, a half-pint bottle. Forty dog, a forty-ouncer, is a staple of hip-hop. In all cases the origin may lie in Yorkshire dialect dog, a small jug.
The rhyming dog and bone is a telephone while another rhyme, dog’s eye, is a meat pie and dog and cat means a mat; the shared initial gives a campus grade of ‘D’. while to never say dog (echoing the ‘dumb’ animal) is to remain silent. Back with humanity our canine can describe a tout (‘the salesman’s dog’) and a beggar who searches for cigarette or dog-ends. The ‘end’ imagery persists in the meaning of the hardest part of the job (once everything else is done all that is left is the ‘tail’) and the residue of poor-quality opium or heroin. A dog, though usually dogs, refers to the foot and with movement in mind the Dog puns on the transcontinental Greyhound bus.
And then there’s sex. Dog- or doggystyle (which not for nothing was the title of the rapper Snoop Dogg’s first hit CD), or dogwise, dog- or doggy fashion or even dog’s marriage, wherein the bitch is doubtless euphemized as a lady dog or dog’s wife. The rear-entry position. Not the dogpaddle, which is anal intercourse, just an image of dogs’ mating. (‘What are those two dogs doing, mummy?’ ‘Well, darling, the little one’s tired and the big one is helping by pushing her all the way home.’) Doggy sex gives a dog’s match, based the brevity of the intercourse and the lack of privacy of mating dogs, which is defined as sex in the open air, especially by the wayside and which gives to make a dog’s match of it, to have sex in the open air or to have a spontaneous quickie. It also gives dog-knotted, source of much crude humour, slang’s description of two lovers locked together during intercourse because of a vaginal muscle spasm brought on by a sudden shock. To play the dog is to display oneself sexually, a dog’s mouth is a tight vagina, and to stroke the dog is to caress it. To suggest that someone sucks a (big) dog’s dick is a phrase of extreme rudeness, while anything which does that kind of sucking is unpleasant or tedious. The last few decades have seen the arrival of dog’s latest sexual evolution and the 21st century’s take on the peeping Tom, dogging: first defined as spying on others having sex in public spaces, usually car parks. The term supposedly comes from the voyeur’s excuse as he sets off for a night’s pleasure: ‘I’m taking the dog for a walk’ although it probably just uses dog, to have sex, since dogging also covers those who provide the ‘live show.’
Finally a couple of late 18th century concepts: the dog’s rig (from rig, a romp) sexual intercourse taken to exhaustion, followed by mutual disinterest (no post-coital cuddles for the animals), and the dog’s portion, otherwise ‘a lick and a smell’ (Grose, 1785) in other words virtually nothing; especially when used of a man who pursues a woman and gets very little for his pains.
A variety of terms deal with unpleasant people, and ways of attacking them. Dog meat, dogpiss (also third-rate liquor), dogshit, dog turd, dogsucker (plus its adjective dogsucking), dogfucker and dog nuts all indicate an unpopular person although the last, echoing the synonymous mutt’s nuts, and indeed the equally congratulatory dog’s bollocks, can turn head-over-heels and mean someone or something excellent. Dog’s abuse is harsh verbal criticism and to dog-mouth is to offer it. A dog trick is a treacherous or spiteful act, an ill-turn or a mean, cruel trick. Dog’s bottom, oddly enough, is an affectionate term of address. To dog out can also mean to intimidate or criticize, but parallel meanings play on the verb’s various uses and include to keep a lookout; to approach sexually; to betray, to neglect, to treat with disrespect.
And there are more phrases, offering a wide range of meanings and all pinned to dog in one of it’s guises. To die like a dog (in a string) is to perish on the gallows; to get in(to) a dog corn-piece is to get into difficulties. Why? Because the dog here (i.e., the West Indies) is synonymous with a guard or watchman, and if he catches you in his corn-piece or corn-field you’re in trouble. (To be in trouble is also in the dogfuck, though dogfuck and its derivatives usually take us back to sex).That same watchman can keep dog, keep a lookout. Does the dog have a nose? Well, is the bear a Catholic? To have a dog tied up, with its image of having left one’s dog while moving on elsewhere means to be indebted, especially at a hotel. Let the dog see the rabbit is to give someone a chance to get on with a task while to lose one’s dog was to lose control of a situation.
Australia’s dog and goanna rules, the image of a fight between a dog and a goanna lizard is another way of saying no rules at all; a dog and pony show (or a horse and dog show) is any elaborately formal occasion, used for official briefings, public relations and so on. The original dog and pony shows were small circuses, where they were the sole animal performers; thus the image is of an event which boasts much presentation but little substance. The simple dog show, and the dog’s chance, both mean no chance at all. A dog-fight was a fistfight and is now any event considered coarse or vulgar. A dog in a doublet is a daring, bold person and recalls the German custom of dressing the dogs used to hunt wild boar in a form of buff-coloured doublet; it gives its own derivations: proud as a dog in a doublet, very proud and a mere dog in a doublet, a pitiful figure, one who shows off to no avail. When the dogs are barking one has a ‘hot tip’ on a racehorse in Australia, although it can also refer to painful feet in the US, and the comment the dogs have not dined once alerted someone whose shirt is hanging out. All the dogs in or on the street means all the world in Ireland and finally, from the world of US short-order cooking, dogs in the grass (or puppies in a haystack) meant frankfurters and sauerkraut.
This next phrase would surely seem irredeemably sexual: fuck the dog (and sell the pups), which offers such variants as feed, finger, fug, screw and even, as a last resort, walk the dog; the abbreviation f.t.d. also does the job. (Dog away one’s time is a more restrained alternative). Yet, as its definition bears out, it’s all a tease; no form of sex, let alone bestiality comes into the equation. The phrase means to idle, to waste time, to loaf on the job or to bungle or blunder. To walk one’s dog, however, is a euphemism, yet another of those phrases offered when wants ‘to be excused’. One then disposes of some dog water, urine, although in other contexts it refers to semen.
And sometimes a dog is just a dog, even if it finds itself for slang’s purposes in some unlikely company. Dog juice is rotgut liquor, i.e. only good enough for an animal or common dog. Dog’s soup was either rain or drinking water. Dog food is variously disgusting food, a bribe (paid to a policeman, the dog), or in gay use a soldier, viewed as a potential partner (and based on dogface); his seafaring equivalent is of course seafood. A further variety of dog food means heroin. Dog’s meat was originally anything considered worthless, e.g. a badly written book or a poorly executed painting. In apartheid South Africa it referred to a domestic worker, a metonymical extension of the cheap cuts of meat which were cooked for the servants’ meals and which were otherwise considered as good enough only for the dogs. Dog’s nose was a 19th century drink: beer warmed nearly to boiling, mixed with gin or wormwood (the basis of absinthe), sugar and ginger; an alternative version substitutes brandy for the wormwood. It could also refer to an alcoholic whose preferred tipple is whisky. Although the beer/wormwood mixture was hot, the term refers to the healthy animal’s nose, which like alcohol, is ‘cold and wet’. Like both dog and nose, the combination dog’s nose can also mean a paid informer who ‘sniffs things out’.
The dog nigger (which US black term is not so much racist as defiant) is a black person who rejects the second-class role offered by the dominant white society; such aggression means that amongst his black peers he can also be seen as a very unpleasant person. A dog-robber is a piece of military jargon: an officer’s servant, who gained his unflattering nickname from his post-mealtime habit of grabbing any edible left-overs from the mess tables before they could be tossed out to the dogs. It is also used by British officers to describe their off-duty tweed civvies. In the dogbox, like in the doghouse, means in trouble, but the original dogbox was a railway carriage without a corridor in which each compartment was sealed off from its fellows and presumably resembled a kennel. A smaller vehicle, a police car, is a dogcart. A dogpatch is a small town or hamlet, based on Dogpatch, the hillbilly settlement in which L’il Abner (1934–77) the syndicated cartoon strip by Al Capp, takes place. A dogtown is another out-of-the-way place, and comes from US theatrical slang ‘let’s try it on the dog’, i.e. take a show around the provinces before ‘bringing it in’, i.e. to New York. The old cant term dog buffer means a dog stealer (itself based on the older bufe, a dog, which may reflect the dog’s bark), while a dog-stiffener, in Australia, is a professional dingo-hunter: the ‘stiffening’ refers to his rendering the animal a stiff or corpse. The dog shelf is the floor, a dog collar a woman’s choker necklace (and of course the back-to-front clerical collar), a dogtag was originally an identification disk but in later drug use describes the junkie’s dream: a legitimate prescription for otherwise illegal narcotics (for a US dog to be legal it must have a labeled collar). Dog work designates tedious, menial labour while the dog hours are the late night/early morning shift. The dog-end, the last fraction of a cigarette does not, it seems, find its origins in anything canine: the more like root is in docked, i.e. cut short. However the tobacco of which it was once rolled, dog-leg, does represent nature via the twists in which the tobacco was sold, which resembled the animal’s limb. Dog music refers to the howls of an injured person (presumably this dog is the cowardly variety, a ‘real man’ grits his teeth); to dogpile is for a group of people to leap on a single individual and a dog’s paw is a US gang tattoo comprising a triangle of three dots, indicating gang membership. Finally, and perhaps most bizarre, is dog-salmon aristocracy, a late 19th century US term, based on the nouveaux riches of the fishing industry, those who thinks they are superior to their peers.
A small subset all use dog’s as their basis: a dog’s age is a very long time (though dogs are far from especially long-lived; maybe it’s that counting seven of their years to our one?); the dog’s dinner or breakfast is an awful mess, and can also be found as a chook’s breakfast, doggy’s dinner or pig’s breakfast. Done like a dog’s dinner means utterly crushed, but add a monosyllable and done up like a dog’s dinner suggests the extremes of sophisticated dress. Australia’s dog’s disease can be any one of a number of diseases – none of which actually effect dogs – such as ‘flu (also known as dog fever), measles and malaria, not to mention a hangover. The dog’s dram was an early 19th century description of the act of spitting in someone’s mouth and simultaneously hitting them on the back. (And why, exactly?).
Used as a verb dog falls into a number of groups. In senses of acting antagonistically dog can mean pursue, hunt down (often with sexual intent); to follow; thus dog on, to make someone follow someone else, and to stare or glance unpleasantly at. In senses of speech, usually negative, the word means to betray, to inform against (also as dog in); to nag, criticize, harass or mistreat; to abuse, curse, or despise; to pester or irritate; to cheat, to lie or to deceive; to taunt, to tease, to mock or to be rude and finally to insult someone in front of their friends. Inevitably there are sexual uses. To dog or do the dog means to have sex, although the inference is usually of doggy-style rear-entry. It can also mean to rape.
In senses of failure or inadequacy the verb can signify to act in a menial capacity; to idle and to shirk off work; and in those of parting it can mean to absent oneself from school; to break an appointment, to stand someone up and thence either to end a relationship or to abandon an old friend for a new one.
Other than these negatives the word has meant to steal, to get a grade D in an examination, to put out a cigarette, to do something fast, hard or well, to defeat, to tear at something in the manner of a dog and thus literally and figuratively to worry. It can work as an adverb too, meaning utterly or completely. Thus dog-poor, extremely poor, dog-sick (and sick as a dog) seriously sick and dog-foolish, very dumb. To dog-wallop is to beat comprehensively. Verbal uses of dog also include dog along, Canadian for manage or subsist, dog around, to idle, dog on, to treat badly or to attack behind someone’s back, and a couple of Caribbean terms: dog back, to swallow one’s pride in the hope of regaining a formerly positive relationship, and dog behind, to act in a servile manner, to toady to.
Finally the phrase dog it offers its own small subset. In gambling it means to act weakly, to be a loser, to lack winning spirit; it can mean to idle or shirk, to waste time or hang back, to dawdle or go slowly. In sexual contexts it refers to dancing provocatively, having sex ‘dog-fashion’, and making it clear that one’s looking for sex (in the case of a woman). Other uses include dressing up in one’s finery, working as an informer, adulterating drugs so as to make them dangerous, acting arrogantly, working as a gay male whore and, based on doghouse, a wagon, traveling on freight trains.