The Origin of Dog-Related Sayings

The Origin of Dog-Related Sayings

The history of humankind and dogs go way back, so it's no surprise that many of our common phrases involve dogs! If you're curious about the meanings of some of the less literal dog sayings and idioms, you've come to the right place.


Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer refer to the time when Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is visible. Sirius is considered the "dog star" because of its prominent position in the constellation Canis Major, meaning "the Greater Dog". Sirius is present in the night sky during the hottest days of summer which Hellenistic astrology associated with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.


Raining Cats and Dogs

This saying is a bit of a mystery; no one knows for sure where it came from. According to the Library of Congress, its roots may come from Norse mythology, medieval superstitions, the obsolete word catadupe (waterfall), or animals found in the streets of Britain after being picked up by storm waters. One possible explanation is that Odin, the Norse god of storms, was often pictured with wolves which were symbols of the wind. Another possible explanation is that witches were believed to ride their brooms during storms. Because witches were associated with black cats, it became a superstition among sailors that black cats caused storms.


Hair of the Dog

The "hair of the dog" is a curious and ill-advised cure for a hangover: more alcohol. This saying actually is short for "the hair of the dog that bit you" and comes from a practice from the Middle Ages to cure a rabid dog bite. Supposedly, putting a hair from the dog that bit you on the wound would cure it. We strongly discourage putting dog hair on a wound or treating a hangover with more alcohol. Some water, an advil, and a long nap should do the trick (for the hangover, not the rabid dog bite. We suggest a doctor for that one.)


Three Dog Night

A "three dog night" is an old-fashioned term for a night that is so cold, you need to take three dogs to bed with you to keep you warm. This term dates back to before central heating became common, although many dog caretakers still choose to snuggle up with their dogs at night!


Tongue of Dog

Many people are familiar with the passage from Shakespeare's Macbeth where the witches are concocting their potion, chanting:

"Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

It so happens that these seemingly sinister ingredient names are actually ancient terms for herbs. "Tongue of dog" refers to the toxic plant houndstongue, or Cynoglossum officinale. 


Put on the Dog

Putting on the dog is an informal and old-fashioned saying that means to behave in a pretentious or ostentatious way. This saying originated in the United States during the time of the civil war, although its exact origin is unknown. Some believe that it may have come from the custom of newly wealthy people to show off their riches by keeping extravagantly pampered pets.


Gone to the Dogs

"Gone to the dogs" is another way to say that something has become deteriorated, ruined, destroyed, less successful, or otherwise worse. According to the Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary, this saying comes from the fact that those who frequented greyhound races often lost a fair amount of money as well as "morality" in doing so.


Doggie Bag

A doggie bag is a term used for the container you get from a restaurant to take your leftovers home in. The term was coined during World War II in the United States and many people didn't have the luxury of wasting food. When they would go to a restaurant, they were given a to-go "doggie bag" so that they could take their steak bones and other scraps home to feed their dog. In 1949, Dan Stampler's Steak Joint restaurant in New York began providing waxed paper bags printed with a Scottish Terrier and a poem on the side. These bags were eventually mass-produced for general use and were given out at restaurants around the country. Also, if you were curious about that poem, here it is:

"Oh where, oh where have your leftovers gone?
Oh where, oh where can they be?
If you’ve had all you can possibly eat,
Please bring the rest home to me!!"

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