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‘My Dawg’ Explores Canine Expressions You May Not Know

I thought I knew most of the expressions having to do with dogs. Boy, was I wrong. When I started looking through “You’re My Dawg, Dog: A Lexicon of Dog Terms for People,” I immediately saw uses of “dog” combined with other words in ways I had never seen. So, I’m guessing that most of you will find at least a few you didn’t know about either.

For example, not being a person who fishes with any kind of regularity and even less expertise, I’d never heard of a dog nobbler. According to author Donald Friedman, it’s a bright lure for fly fishing. Unfortunately, there’s no illustration of a dog nobbler as it appears on the same page as “dog-paddle,” demonstrated by a woman in a pink bathing suit and what looks like a French Bulldog. It’s probably not a Frenchie, though, as I’ve heard that most dogs of that breed aren’t really into swimming, and some even sink like rocks if placed in a pool or lake.

I’m not sure how Friedman managed to find so many terms that include the word “dog,” but it looks like researching such topics may be one of his specialties. Some of his other books include “The Hollywood Dictionary,” “Hollywood Dogs,” “Cool Dogs” and “Funny Dogs.”

In an interview he did with “himself” that’s posted on the book’s website, he explains how his latest title came about: “I’m a born procrastinator and, like many writers, try different ways to avoid the hard work of writing – since you can only do so many loads of laundry, looking at your investments is too depressing, and the people you want to waste time with on the phone have lives. In this case, I was avoiding work on my just-completed new novel, ‘Corrupted Humours,’ by taking long walks in the woods where I could pretend I was working out issues of plot and characterization, which usually ended up with my thinking about neglected chores or my bad investments, but one day I started thinking of dog words.

“There were a number of walks and extended periods of procrastination during which I made lists and called everyone I knew to ask if they could think of more. And, of course, I went to dictionaries, and trolled the Internet.”

Where he found “dog in a doublet” is not revealed, but here’s his definition: “Someone of courage and daring. From the practice of dressing boar-hunting dogs in leather doublets.” Some of you who have longer associations with the dog world than I probably knew this one right away. I’ve seen some wild-pig-hunting dogs on the island of Hawaii that could benefit from such an accessory.

The illustrator for “You’re My Dawg, Dog,” J.C. Suarés, might have had trouble with the dog in a doublet if he hadn’t worked previously with the author on several of his books about dogs. His illustrations have also appeared in The New Yorker, Time and Variety.

A great example of Suarés’ work for this book is for “dog collar.” Did you know this is one term for the white stiff collar worn by ministers and other members of the clergy? I didn’t. I love that the stained glass shows a dog with angel wings chasing a bright red ball. It reminds me of the dog chapel in Vermont that features various forms of dog art by Stephen Huneck, although I’m not sure that it even has any stained glass windows.

“My Dawg” includes 146 dog terms, idioms, proverbs and metaphors, almost all using the word “dog,” with a few “mutts,” “pups” and “mongrels” thrown in.

I love this proverb near the end of the book: “Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” Wish I’d known about it when I was a manager having trouble relinquishing tasks to my staff. It refers to assigning a job to someone else, then doing it yourself, and is from a 1583 treatise, according to Friedman. The Arab proverb, “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on,” means that “great forces find their expression despite objectors.” I’d like to convince my dog, Max, of that. Regardless of how many times he barks at the mail carrier, the man refuses to be deterred from his mission. Max simply can’t accept that.

“Dog shelf” refers to the floor apparently, “in sarcastic usage.” I’d really like to know if any of you have heard this before. Friedman uses this example: “‘Hang it on the dog shelf, Herb!’ Sally yelled to him, indicating that he should throw his coat on the floor, as was his habit.” I find it hard to believe that this expression existed when I was growing up because my mother never used it. I recall that she often harangued us for leaving things – that didn’t belong there – on the floor. She could have made handy use of this.

The book has plenty of phrases that we all know too. The “dog days” of summer and it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world are among them. You’ll also find “doggie bag,” “doggerel,” “dog pile” and “dog-tired.” But have you ever taken a dog nap? Apparently that’s a short nap taken while seated upright, rather than sprawled out like cat.

“Blowing dogs off chains” means it’s a very windy day, as you can see from Suarés’ illustration. I’ve lived in some pretty windy places, but no one ever used this phrase. I haven’t, however, lived in Chicago, so maybe it’s popular there. Or maybe it’s fallen out of use as people have learned that chaining dogs is a bad idea that tends to lead to territorial aggression. We can only hope (and suggest to people we meet who do this that they might want to rethink their restraint method).

Another good one is “mucky pup,” which refers to a “messy person, especially a child.” I can put this to good use next time I babysit my friend’s 2-year-old. He can tear apart a room faster than a tornado. Sometime he moves at the speed of one for that matter.

Apparently “running dog” describes a lackey, or someone who does what his “master” asks “with eagerness.” Friedman says it’s from the “literal translation of the Chinese word.” This must have come about when we were all doing a much better job of training our dogs. In the illustration, as you can see, the dog is delivering pizza, so I’m guessing it can also be applied to working hard at a job.

Pretty much any dog person will enjoy this book. It has enough of the familiar to be comfortable, plenty of obscure terms to keep it interesting, and darling, lighthearted illustrations to make you smile.

 Included text is used with permission from “You’re My Dawg, Dog: A Lexicon of Dog Terms for People” by Donald Friedman and J.C. Suarès. Welcome Books. Text © 2013 Donald Friedman. Illustrations © 2013 J.C. Suarès. www.welcomebooks.com/dawg 

Welcome Books invites Best In Show Daily readers to suggest dog terms not included in the book. Send it in, and you could win a “You’re My Dawg, Dog” poster. Go to the Readers’ Suggested Dog Terms page for details.

Written by

Susan Chaney has been on the editorial side of publishing since 1990, starting her career as a newspaper features writer and editor. A lifelong lover of dogs, Susan has lived with German Shepherds, Labs, Yorkies, an Irish Setter, a Great Dane-Bloodhound mix, a Sheltie and currently a Chihuahua mix of unknown pedigree. She was the editor of Dog Fancy magazine, content editor of DogChannel.com and group editor of Dog World, Dogs USA, Puppies USA, Natural Dog, Cat Fancy, Cats USA and Kittens USA from March 2005 to December 2009 when she left her position to work at home, part-time. Susan lives in Long Beach, Calif., with her artist husband, Tim, that Chi mix and two big cats. As an editor and writer for Best In Show Daily, she is reveling in the amalgam of three loves: writing, editing and dogs.
  • Susan Chaney
    Susan Chaney March 12, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    I really enjoyed looking through this book so I could write this article. I urge everyone to take a little break from the daily routine, cllick on the link in the first paragraph, and check it out.

  • Collin March 12, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    Well, I’ve never heard of most of the terms you mentioned, but they’re certainly interesting and entertaining. Sounds like a great read, and for a dog lover like me, the illustrations are priceless.

  • Dan Sayers March 12, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    “Dog tired” is how many readers must be feeling after a whirlwind weekend in Birmingham to attend Crufts!

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