What’s Sick About Dogs?
Inspiration doesn’t bubble up when you’re sick as a dog. Granted, my current bug is respiratory, not gastrointestinal as the phrase might suggest, but even so—why dogs? Do they get sicker than the rest of us, or more often?
“Sick as a dog” is said to go back at least to 1705, though I haven’t found the reference yet. Oxford English Dictionary, anyone? According to the OED, early phrases and proverbs smeared dogs as vicious, miserable working beasts that spread disease.
Who doesn’t love a good origin story? We thirst to know how a word, phrase, belief, cultural practice, or epidemic began. When evidence runs out, make something up. It stretches the imagination and generates hypotheses to explore. Just remember to distinguish evidence from speculation or hypothesis, to avoid getting mired in conspiracy theories not fit for a dog.
11/28/2022 09:28:39 am
This hits me right in my greatest addiction --- words! Although I enjoy the ease with which Google caqn provide the answer to a question, settle a friendly disagreement about the facts of this or that, I do miss the the adventure of looking up a wore or bit of history or science or whatever in a dictionary or encyclopedia...there are so many other interesting byways to explore on the way to an anwer in books that are completly missing in electronic research.
11/28/2022 07:26:13 pm
My addiction too, as I think you know! I actually have the hard-copy version of the OED here, the two-volume version with tiny tiny print and a magnifying glass, and tried finding "sick as a dog" there but failed. Still suspect it may be there, hidden amidst the tiny print - but this edition was clearly designed for younger eyes than mine.
11/29/2022 07:41:50 am
The phrase seems to reflect the animal but that is not its derivation. In ancient times, "the dog" was the worst throw in dice. Over time, "the dog" became synonymous with anything particularly bad, a slang meaning that still exists (think: a scoundrel, or ugly woman or "the dog days of summer"). Being "sick as a dog" reflects another such application.
11/29/2022 05:07:59 pm
Love this! When you reach the limits of your evidence, make something up. Is "the dog" being the worst throw in ancient dice true? One could say that's the origin of dogs' long negative reputation, or a reflection of it, or simply an example. I still find it odd to think dogs evolved from wolves for their friendliness to humans and nevertheless had such a bad rap.
11/29/2022 05:10:39 pm
As for dog days of summer, I think it's from astrology.
11/29/2022 07:36:11 pm
The part about dog being a description of the worst dice throw in ancient times is reportedly true (meaning I got it from an internet source). Maybe, just maybe, this is the source of at least a lot of the negative phrases related to dogs. And the phrase the "dog days of summer" is related both to the "dog" star (Sirius) and the hottest and most humid days of late summer. I think the relationship is that Sirius rises above the horizon at that time of year, and the particularly uncomfortable weather associated with that time of years became associated with that astronomic event.
11/30/2022 07:25:24 am
For all the modern appreciation of dogs as man's (sic) best friend, we still have "bitch" and "son of a bitch" as super negatives. And I can't think of ways today's warm fuzzies about dogs have made it into our language, though surely there must be some.
11/30/2022 07:39:26 am
I guess we could debate if "puppy love" is a positive thing, or a belittling way of describing young people's feelings. (I can tell you I took it as discounting my feelings at age 10 when my mother told me that was what I was experiencing concerning my first crush.) But maybe the phrase "a dog is a man's best friend", which seems to be suggesting that dog's loyalty and constant willingness to comfort its owner is a great thing, fits the "positive" requirement you seek. Then again, maybe this phrase just means that men can't relate well enough to other people...
12/1/2022 08:16:38 pm
The "best friend" notion conjures up a dog's nonjudgmental, unconditional affection, though surely that assumes we treat the dog decently in the first place. Perhaps other people more often notice our flaws. I've see the suggestion, "Be the person your dog thinks you are."
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.