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6 Common Dog Expressions and Their Origins

Written by: Renee Moen
| Published on May 8, 2014

Everyone has grown up with dog phrases such as “Raining Cats and Dogs” or “The Dog Days of Summer”. Where did these expressions come from? Is there a rhyme or a reason to these expressions or are they merely fun to quote. Listed below are six common dog expressions, their origins and meanings. Enjoy! Please excuse me, I gotta to see a man about a dog.


“The Dog Days of Summer”

This is the hot, lethargic period between July and September. Way back before central air, dogs would find a cool shady spot to lie down, spending the heat of the day doing nothing, trying to stay cool. Humans would do the same. On a day that is so hot, the air barely moves, a human would sit and fan themselves in an attempt to ward off the sweltering heat of summer. This is what became known as the “Dog Days of Summer.”

“Three Dog Night”

The geographic source of this phrase has been debated time and again. No one is sure whether it originated in the Australian outback or the northern reaches of North America with the Eskimos. The meaning, however, is quite clear. The phrase is a rudimentary nightly temperature gauge. Dogs huddled with humans at night for the warmth. On really cold nights, three dogs were called into the bed to keep the owner from freezing to death. The phrase was cemented in literature by Jane Resh Thomas’ book Courage at Indian Deep.

“Every Dog Has Its Day”

First appearing in the poem, “Young and Old” taken from the Water Babies Collection, Charles Kingsley wrote “Young blood must have its course, lad; And every dog his day.” The meaning is really that everyone will have their moment. Andy Warhol explained the phrase by saying that everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame.

“See a Man about a Dog”

This is an older reference to doing something without announcing it. “I gotta see a man about a dog.” Most often used by men to excuse themselves out of a conversation. Their exact destination remains unclear, whether they are heading to the bathroom or to their bookie, one simply doesn’t ask. It was used widely during the prohibition years to refer to buying or consuming alcohol.

“It’s Raining Cats and Dogs”

First quote being in 1651 by British poet Henry Vaughn, it was again used a year later by playwright Richard Brome. No one is certain whether this quote originated with Norse mythology; Odin was the god of storms and attended by dogs and wolves. Sailors often credited him with rain. Or Medieval mythology, witches often took cats as their familiars and rode through the air, even during storms. It may be because dogs and cats would seek higher ground in the form of rooftops during storms. While waiting out the storm they may have been swept off the roof, and for all intents and purposes looked like it was raining cats and dogs.

“Work like a Dog”

This expression doesn’t refer to hard work alone. Dogs with jobs work hard, it’s true, they also work for no money. The dog will gladly do his task for the verbal or tasty reward at the end of his “shift”. They take pleasure in their status and work hard to maintain their place in the pack. A dog will work hard, for a belly rub at the end of a long grueling day. How many humans could say the same?




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