Thursday, January 15, 2009


My last blog quoted the term “dogged perseverance” from the Oxford English Dictionary, and I think it’s worthy of comment.

First, dogged is pronounced as two syllables: dogg’-ed. While there may be mild implications of wooden-headedness in this adjective, we tend to use it as a compliment, a reflection of the admirable tenacity and persistency that certain breeds of dog exhibit.

I was surprised to discover that early uses of the word were uniformly and relentlessly — nay, even doggedly — negative. “Man’s best friend” was not the norm. Synonyms for dogged included currish, malicious, spiteful, perverse, cruel, obstinate, Ill-tempered, surly, sullen, morose, snarly, and snappish. For 300 years, until Samuel Johnson’s time, the word was in the doghouse. Canophilia was not in vogue.

This is reflected in a couple of words based upon the Greek word for dog. Cynopic meant shameless, and it could be translated as dog-eyed. A cynical person was currish and doglike, in the snappish negative sense.

In English, inferior language use was tagged, variously, as dog-Latin, dog-Greek, and dog-English. If you were terminally stupid, you used dog-logic, and inferior poets wrote dog-rime. And, of course, if I accused you of being someone’s lap-dog, I would have grievously insulted you, and you would accuse me of barking up the wrong tree.

Other bad press canine terms include die like a dog, dogging it, going to the dogs, in the doghouse, hangdog look, not fit for a dog, sick as a dog, “you’re dogfood!” and to throw someone to the dogs.

SIDEBAR: History & evolution of dogs

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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