An idiom is a common word or phrase that means something different from its literal meaning but is easily understood because of how it is used. In our language, you have probably come across more than a number of references to our canine friends. I thought it might be fun to see what “dog” idioms there were, and then determine where they originated and what they might mean.
Other than the American rock band formed in 1967, “Three Dog Night” is an older expression created for a very cold night, where temperatures would fall below freezing. During a time when thick quilts did not provide enough warmth, one might take a dog to bed to provide it. Colder weather would call for two dogs and when it was cold enough to “freeze the balls off a brass monkey”, a person would make room for three dogs.
The phrase “His bark is worse than his bite” often refers to someone who sounds a lot more ferocious than he actually is. It is generally believed that the first reference is in priest and poet George Herbert’s collection of proverbs “Jacula Prudentum,” or “Darts of the Wise,” published in 1651. Another association occurs a bit earlier in the 13th Century French proverb “chascuns chiens” qui abaie ne mort pas” meaning, :the dog that barks does not bite.”
As a child, you never had to be on the receiving end of a double-dog dare to understand what it meant. All any of us have do is watch the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.” It is probably the best depiction of the phrase. But it appears that the phrase was actually devised a bit earlier. A few references from the 1890s mention the “double dog dare.” One is from the 1896 book “The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought,” in which a “scale of challenging” is used by children in Kentucky that goes, “I dare you; I dog dare you; I double dog dare you. I dare you; I black dog dare you; I double black dog dare you.” Guess black dogs up the ante in scare tactics.
“It’s raining cats and dogs” may, according to some, have its roots in Norse mythology. However, the first recorded use of a similar phrase was in the 1651 collection of poems “Olor Iscanus.” British poet Henry Vaughan referred to a roof that was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.” When Jonathan Swift, in 1738, published his “Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation,” a satire on the conversations of the upper classes, one of the feared characters that it would “rain cats and dogs.” It is generally believed Swift’s parody was likely the true beginning of the phrase’s popularity.
“Hair of the dog” is the shortened colloquial expression “Hair of the dog that bit you,” a term used to indicate a way of curing a hangover. Whatever was consumed in excess the night before, according to the saying, it’s best to drink a glass of the same thing the next morning to help ease the pain. Originally, the expression referred to a method of treating a rabid dog bite. Robert James alludes to the method in “A Treatise on Canine Madness” written in 1760, where the “hair of the dog that gave the wound is advised as an application to the part injured.” With reference to the drinking part, John Heywood, in the 1546 “A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue,” uses the following: “I pray thee let me and my fellow have – A hair of the dog that bit us last night – And bitten were we both to the brain right. We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.”
I think we can all agree that the “dog days of summer” are here as we note that, like us, many areas of the nation are baking. We typically state this every year around now, and the phrase origin dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who reigned from approximately 3100 BC to 332 BC. The Egyptians believed exceptionally hot weather was directly related to the appearance of the dog star Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, which is visible in Egypt’s sky from the beginning of July to mid-August. In actuality, the dog star has nothing to do with the hot temperatures of the summer months other than we use it to describe the sultry part of the summer.
Paul Anka, in 1960, wrote the song “Puppy Love” for Annette Funicello, a Mouseketeer, on whom he had a crush. In 1972 Donny Osmond redid it, but the first known use of the expression actually occurred in 1823. Puppy love is the descriptive term of feelings of love between young people during childhood and preadolescence, because it resembles the adoring, worshipful affection that a puppy displays .
A few further examples are: “Let sleeping dogs lie” to avoid interfering in something that may cause trouble; “Dog-eared” is the folded corners of pages in a book; “In the dog house” is to be in trouble; “Barking up the wrong tree” is to pursue a misguided action; “Work like a dog” is to work exceedingly hard; “Run with the big dogs” is to compete with top performers; and “Call your dogs off” is to stop attacking.
Interesting, isn’t it, how the canine species has originated human life?
Ronnie Casey has been volunteering with the Tehama County Animal Care Center since relocating in 2011. A retired RN, she strives to help animals in need within Tehama county. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.