Where Do “Dog” Expressions Come From?

August 5, 2021 at 9:15 AM by Nikki Wardle

Nikki Wardle

Thinking about dog expressions

Have you ever said, "the dog days of summer" or "work like a dog" and wondered where those phrases originated from? After a bit of digging into those sayings, we've uncovered some pretty interesting history and evolution to some of the most common dog expressions.

Work Like a Dog

This phase is most associated with working tirelessly towards a goal, much like ranch dogs, tracking dogs, or hunting dogs. However, history tells us that this phase started out as referring to someone who works for little to no pay or compensation.

Dog Days of Summer

This expression is used mainly in July and August to describe the blazing hot summers of Idaho, especially in the Treasure Valley. The actual origin of the phrase is going to surprise you. Back in ancient Rome and Greece, the "Dog Days" were associated with the rising of Sirius, the dog star, part of the Greater Dog constellation. The Romans and Greeks believed that when this star rose in mid to late summer, it contributed to the extreme heat. In fact, the name of Sirius comes from the Greek word seirios, meaning scorching.

Dog Eat Dog World

The very origin of this phase started out very differently than its current meaning. The Latins had a phrase, "canis caninam non est," which translates to "dog does not eat dog." But somehow, through history, the phrase has morphed into "dog eat dog," referring to "every man for himself" kind of mentality.

In the Doghouse

We can all thank Peter Pan for this phrase. After Wendy and the kids were whisked away to Never-Never Land by Peter Pan, Mr. Darling, the father, is shown to be sitting in Nana's dog house as a form of punishment for allowing his children to be kidnapped. Now you know why so many boyfriends and husbands find themselves "in the dog house" when their significant others are upset.

Hair of the Dog

The history of this phrase is quite interesting indeed. Back in Medieval times, it was believed that if a rabid dog bit you, you needed to put the hair of that rabid dog on the bite wound to help it heal. Certainly, an odd theory indeed. But through the years, it has now evolved to refer to someone who has imbibed in the spirits a bit too much and is now suffering the consequences.

Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

In the 16th century, shepherds coined the term as advice to other shepherds that they needed to train their dogs while the dogs were still young. Now this phrase is widely used throughout the population and had even made appearances in James Bonds movies.  

Puppy Love

The science behind this phase can be explained in our blog "A Neuroscientist Explains Why You Can't Help But Love Puppies." As far as when the term was originally coined, it has been traced back to the early 1800s and was used to refer to the love a young dog has for its owner. And just like most idioms through the years it has evolved, and now refers to young love or crushes.

Those are just a few of the dog-inspired phrases that we use in our day-to-day lives. While many of them don't even refer to our beloved pets, we'll still keep loving them all the same.

Topics: Pet Facts

Nikki Wardle

Written by Nikki Wardle

Nikki is the marketing manager for IPH and has been writing for Intermountain Pet Hospital since 2014.