Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dog & Pony Show

Chris from Petoskey asked about the phrase, dog and pony show. In our day, it has taken a pejorative turn. It implies that a presentation is merely showy, without depth. It is a spectacle meant purely to impress the unaware. It is often applied to political and military briefings, to sales presentations, and to desperate press conferences following a scandal.

Originally, however, it was a literal title. If a town couldn’t attract a full-scale circus (a highly sought-after 19th century form of entertainment) because the population was too small or too poor, there was an alternative: a scaled down form of entertainment involving ponies and dogs. Such shows were enthusiastically received by their audiences. Something was much better than nothing when you lived in the boonies.

The small scale of the operation and the fact that it was deemed not good enough to be a real circus led to the negative connotation.

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

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