This week Mr Slang is doin’ it doggy-style with one of the counter-language’s most well-used animals…

Inspired yet again by in-house creativity, to wit Susan’s revelations vis-a-vis ‘Big Dawg’ parfum de chien, I tender slang’s firm hand on the leash.

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 Welsh Gelert and ever-attendant Scottish 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 and similarly unflattering 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!

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 canine 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’).

The cat is generally recognized as the ‘sexy’ beast, but 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; to beat the dog means masturbate. 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 human dog should beware: 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. All mean to put on airs or to act energetically, although put on dog has a secondary meaning: to have sex.

Villains have always been ‘dog-lovers’ (and not merely of 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 goes or turns 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 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 another policeman. 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, occur in slang as a synonym for menstruation.  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. 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.

image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.

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  1. Worm on Thursday 10, 2013

    ahhh, I had never considered it before, but I suppose the hillbilly exclamation of ‘dagnabbit!’ is simply a spoonerised, puritanical way of saying ‘goddamn it’ without invoking the deity

  2. John Halliwell on Thursday 10, 2013

    I’ve always liked the exclamation: ‘that’s the dog’s bollocks!’; its origins no doubt buried somewhere deep within a Shakespeare Tragedy. And ‘dog-tired’ and ‘me dogs are barkin’; both of which applied earlier today after a long walk through local parkland, during which I demonstrated a nifty soft-shoe-shuffle to avoid being flattened on a eight-foot wide path by at least ten (x2) muts seemingly intent on responding in a ridiculously theatrical manner to the exhortation: “Cry ‘Havoc’, and let slip the dogs of war.” As I passed three of the owners, who were in deep conflab and oblivious to the mayhem around them, I heard one say: “They’re alright as long as you don’t turn your back on them!”

  3. malty on Thursday 10, 2013

    There’s this hund that I know, let’s call her Sila, a Romanian rescue dog. Practically, but not quite, a lurcher, sort of lurcherish if you know what I mean. She can be shy and will avert her eyes if left alone in a room with men, reminds me of Oliver Mellor’s dog in Lady Chatterly, averted it’s eyes when Ollie and Connie were at the bonk.
    Sila, unfortunately, is frequently in the hundhaus with dog owners who walk their animals along the Rhine pathway from Deutz, across the bridge to Rodenkirchen and back to town. There is no finer way to spend a summer evening, cycling along in pairs with Sila loping behind, stopping off for refreshment at the many watering holes. Or it should be, the Romanian skinny bitch has an unfortunate habit, she bites dogs bollocks.

    Despite repeated visits to the hund psychologist, a splendid and bloody expensive Berlin blonde, Sila remains firmly committed to her task, viz, the castration of the male of her species. I suppose we human males within her orbit should give thanks to that great breeder in the sky for not taking out her angst on us.

    What happened to her back in Romania can only be guessed, loud bangs scare her as do fortune tellers, perhaps it’s what Romanian women do and Sila is merely reverting to type. The Germans, now a civilised people, welcome dogs in their shops and restaurants, we would gladly take Sila bur fear the consequences.

    Within the next two years the Romanians will be here, gentlemen, guard your goolies.

  4. George on Thursday 10, 2013

    Important correction: “dogface” applied to personnel of the U.S. Army in WW II. No Marine would have referred to a Marine infantryman as a “dogface” or “doggie”. And I think that within the Army the term was considered derogatory only if it was used by personnel of the other services.

    “Dogface” as an insult goes back at least to the Iliad, for what it’s worth.

    • Brit on Thursday 10, 2013

      Is that a correction?

      • George on Thursday 10, 2013

        Is which a correction? Regarding the USMC use of “dogface” or “doggie”, definitely yes. Marines would never have referred to Marine infantry as “doggies”. The rest of it, one might classify as clarification or just random dogmanship.

        • Brit on Thursday 10, 2013

          Correction just seemed a bit confident. Query? Dispute? Refutation?

  5. Susan on Thursday 10, 2013

    Whatever would Mishka have to say about all this?

  6. Brit on Thursday 10, 2013

    Apparently ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ is one of Mahlerman’s favourite songs.

    • Joey Joe Joe Jr. on Thursday 10, 2013

      Does that mean we have a canine-themed Lazy Sunday post to look forward to?

  7. jane on Thursday 10, 2013

    I fully understand about the discussion of slang – however, that cartoon was just incredibly offensive – and you know why – or do I have to go into details about how the rear end – sorry, arse – of the ‘dog’ is so much like the female form? I am no prude etc etc etc, what people get up to in their own bedrooms in private should stay that way etc etc. I just thought it was vulgar and horrible.

    I am shocked and genuinely taken aback that you allowed this to be put up here. Honestly. I am so disappointed.

    or am I overreacting? I would be interested to hear what people think. I’m just talking about the picture, not Jonathon’s article.

    loving your work as always, just not the pic on this occasion.

    • Worm on Thursday 10, 2013

      Jane – thats the front cover of Snoop Dogg’s 1993 album ‘doggy style’ on general release in all music shops since then, so it’s been deemed fit for general consumption (the inside of the cover is much ruder though)

  8. Mr Slang on Thursday 10, 2013

    George: I think you may have misread – or perhaps I have miswritten – the text. By ‘infantry’ I meant the US Army, not the Marines.

    Jane: This may not assuage your feelings, which I naturally regret, but my assumption is that you don’t recognise the pic. It is the cover of the rapper Snoop Dogg’s (then Snoop Doggy Dogg, now Snoop Lion) album Doggystyle (1993, details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doggystyle). This title was of course a pun, and the lyrics are, as might be expected, even more ‘vulgar and horrible’: the whole self-glorifying macho mess of sex, drugs, violence and misogyny that was embodied in the category ‘gangsta rap’. The lyrics are also dense with slang. From my point of view it seems to work: my text deals, after all, with ‘bad’ dogs (and includes a number of sexual terms) rather than cute mutts. None of which will minimise your distaste, but it might set the pic in context.

  9. Brit on Thursday 10, 2013

    Jane – I selected the image as it seemed to illustrate both the Afro-American sense of ‘dogg’ and the cruder versions covered in JG’s post. Sorry if you were offended but Snoop Doggy Dogg (or whatever he’s called at the moment) is a worldwide megastar and therefore the image is already very much in the mainstream and will be instantly recognisable to anyone with a passing interest in hip hop (which I take it you don’t).

    Is it sexist? Indubitably, and seems to me to follow in a tradition of ‘randy dog’ cartoons, such as the Loony Tunes wolf who would go through an extraordinary eye-popping, heart-throbbing, panting routine whenever Bugs Bunny dressed as a sexy girl rabbit.

    Will I be removing it? No, since Mr Slang’s posts neither condone nor condemn but report, the illustration likewise.

  10. jane on Thursday 10, 2013

    OK, OK, I get it. I saw it out of context. I had no idea that it was a Snoop Doggy Dog album cover, and I haven’t listened to him, And of course, I wouldn’t expect you to take it down, of course not.

    And I know (as a 51 year old single female who’s had her moments) working in the NHS currently but has a history in the media, and worked in the picture libraries for several tabloid newspapers, it still worried me that you should perpetuate that image.

    Thank you for your replies. My worst fear was that I would be ignored and that you (Worm, Brit, Mr Slang) would not even enter into a debate, in which case I could comfortably consign the whole lot of you to a middle-aged middle class exclusively male dustbin (on the other hand, that’s not a bad place to be!). I do have a sense of humour about stuff and it was just painful to have to make a protest. I accept what both of you have said – and yes,the whole rap culture is problematic e.g. my brother will play Eminem in the car, but I object because his children are in the back and I don’t think they should hear the f-word quite so much, and I know that rap is a valid culter in lots of ways (although I realise I’ve just used the world ‘valid’ which is so loaded, but you know what I mean).

    Like a lot of things it’s an artistic expression for good or ill. (blimey, i’ve just heard Philip Hensher and Tom Sutcliffe on Radio 4 discussing Fiona Shaw’s version of The Ancient Mariner in the tunnels below the Old Vic – vanity project or what? – which interests to the same degree. So I have no real issues about aspects of modern culture being discussed on the Dabbler site- the more the merrier. And origins of slang is interesting and bound to feature some stuff which you may not want to discuss at the Ambassador’s dinner party (although, having worked for 3 Ambassadors I’m not sure, but I digress).

    Even given all this, I still think it’s a horrible picture and I would just prefer not to have seen it, but that’s a risk of anyone who logs on to the internet – and now, it seems this site.

    but there you go, and that’s all about it, as they say somewhere.

    jane

    p.s. Brit- I notice you way ‘will I be removing it?’ – I never asked that of you and I wouldn’t expect you to.

    p.p.s. it may well be ‘in the mainstream’ – it’s still horrible.

  11. Gaw on Thursday 10, 2013

    I wanted to learn a bit more about the Snoop character and here’s a striking sentence from his Wikipedia entry:

    After Snoop Dogg was acquitted of murder charges on February 20, 1996, he and the mother of his son and their kennel of 20 pit bulls moved into a 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) home in the hills of Claremont, California…

    Sort of sums it up.

    Back on topic, I do like ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’.