Friday, July 22, 2016
Danielle Arens asked about the phrase, “putting on the dog.” It means to dress fashionably and somewhat formally in order to impress your audience. There is no unanimous opinion as to its origin.
One patently ridiculous explanation (although popular with tour guides) says that when the family dog died in pre-colonial times, its skin underwent a tanning process, and the leather was used to make shoes or gloves. So you were literally putting on the dog when you dressed up.
Another explanation says that it may refer to the prevalence of lap dogs carried around by fashionable women in the period right after the American Civil War. You’d have to equate carrying with putting on in that case.
An appealing explanation points to students at Yale in the late 1870s. In-house slang used the word dog to refer to the uncomfortable stiff collars that men wore on formal occasions. They were being compared to dog collars.
An aside: I mentioned tour guides and bogus stories above. A few years ago, my wife and I toured the White House. Our tour guide told us that 19th century presidential wives and their friends would use a beeswax compound to hide smallpox scars and other blemishes. The downside was that when they sat close to a blazing fireplace while playing cards, the beeswax would begin to melt. If they caught another woman looking at them, they would say, “mind your own beeswax.” When I confronted the guide at the end of the tour and pointed out that this was utter nonsense, he smiled and said, “I know, sir, but the tourists love it.”
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