Tuesday, September 30, 2008

dogs

There are some things about the English that I almost don't want to understand. I mean, I find these things so strange that I am afraid I won't like the English anymore if I think too much about them. And one of those things is the way in which animals often come above people in a significant portion of Englishfolk's priorities. Kate Fox in Watching the English notes that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded long before the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which "appears to have been founded as a somewhat derivative afterthought." Another case in point: there's a donkey sanctuary in Devon that gets over £13 million pounds a year in donations. (I was trying to find a recent article I read about it, but now I can only find this 2003 one.) That's more than MenCap (the leading charity for the mentally handicapped--or in BrE, those with learning disabilities), Age Concern (leading charity for 'older people') and the Samaritans (mental health/suicide-prevention hotline). Donkeys. Better Half's sister and her (BrE-ish) partner have just returned from a well-enjoyed (BrE) holiday in Cornwall, but reported that visiting the donkey sanctuary on the way back was the highlight of the (BrE) fortnight. Donkeys.

But that's the same sister-in-law who refers to her two dogs as my baby daughter's "cousins". She takes no notice of me cringing when she does so. Or maybe she gets a thrill from it. I don't want to think about it too much. I do think of this bit from The Xenophobe's Guide to the English (and similar bits from most of the other books about the English on my shelf):
For while [the English] are not always very good at talking to each other, they excel in conversation with their animals. Although they are not often successful in forming tactile bonds with their children, they continually chuck the chins of their lap dogs and whisper sweet nothings into their hairy ears. (p. 23)
People who feel that animals are fine--outdoors, in the jungle, not bothering me--had better be quiet about it, since:
If our pet takes against someone, even if we have no reason at all to dislike the person, we trust the animal's superior insight and become wary and suspicious. People who object to being jumped on, climbed over, kicked, scratched and generally mauled by English animals who are 'just being friendly' also clearly have something wrong with them. (Watching the English, p. 236)
On that note, we turn to the following correspondence from British reader Bill:
I used the expression "dog's breakfast" in a comment on an American blog, and the bloke said he'd never heard it before. The day before, I saw some Americans misunderstanding the British meaning of a dog's basket - apparently they'd have said "dog's bed". I understand that Americans are reluctant to use "bitch" in its literal meaning. Are we separated even in woofer-related matters?
All of my brothers and my good friends in the US have dogs. They also have full-time gainful employment. Meanwhile, in the UK I know people who would love to have a dog, but who feel that it would be cruel to leave a dog at home while they go to work and can't understand people who do that. I think we are separated especially in woofer-related matters.

So, on to Bill's phrases, and some more. I was surprised to find that I'd not mentioned (BrE) dog's breakfast before, since it was one of the non-translating metaphors/costumes at my Metaphorty party, and I wrote about those back here. But it seems I left out my sister-in-law's costume. Being a petite person (like all of Better Half's family), she was able to cut arm holes into an economy-size dried dog food bag (Baker's Complete, I believe it was) and call herself 'the dog's breakfast'. Dog's breakfast means 'a mess'.  [Postscript, 12 Sept 2011: Mark Liberman at Language Log points out that this is originally AmE! See the 3rd comment on this post of his for those details.]

This is not to be confused, The Phrase Finder tells us, with (BrE) the dog's dinner, meaning 'dressed or displayed in an ostentatiously smart manner':
Why a dog's breakfast is synonymous with mess or muddle and dog's dinner with smartness isn't at all clear. It appears that the two phrases were coined entirely independently of each other.
'Dog's dinner' is first cited in ‘C. L. Anthony's play 'Touch Wood', 1934:
"Why have you got those roses in your hair? You look like the dog's dinner."
And then there are (BrE) the dog's bollocks, with bollocks being informal BrE for 'testicles' (= balls). On its own, bollocks can be used as roughly equivalent to (AmE) bullshit--i.e. a load of (AmE) garbage/(BrE) rubbish. But when they're the dog's bollocks, it means "as good as it could be, the best of its kind, the Rolls-Royce of its type" (Jeremy Paxman, The English, p. 236). So, human testicles = rubbish, refuse; canine testicles = the best thing in the world. See what I mean about priorities?

Back to Bill's list, I'd not have thought of dog('s) basket as particularly BrE, but I searched for it on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com and found that the former shows dog beds (many, but not all, involving basket-y structures) and the American site shows baskets for carrying your pet on your bicycle--so perhaps there is a difference there. I'd have to use dog bed in AmE if there was no wicker involved, but I'd be happy to say basket if an actual basket was part of the structure.

And as far as bitch goes, I don't know anyone in either country who uses the word a lot in its literal meaning. Both of sis-in-law's dogs are female, but she refers to them as girls, not bitches. In my experience, bitch is used by those who breed dogs and those who hunt with them. And since I avoid both populations to the best of my ability (or at least avoid engaging them in animal talk), I haven't got a clear notion that Americans do use it less. On the contrary, bitch appears over 500 times on the American Kennel Club website, but only once on a document at Kennel Club UK and 16 times on the Crufts site--though since I don't know how those sites compare size-wise, it's not a very useful comparison.

Having revealed my lack of enthusiasm for dogs (at least as compared to people), I expect that I'll go down in many a reader's estimation. But they already liked dogs better than me, so I won't let it faze me. I've concentrated on the English here, with no claims about the rest of the British, but it should be noted that the Scottish have a famous monument to dog loyalty. Maybe that's just there to bring English tourists across the border, but I don't think so...

68 comments:

Dominic said...

On the subject of "dog's bollocks" - in AusE the term "dog's balls" or "dog's danglies" is heard to express somethings superior nature (eg "Did ya see the new stereo in Davo's ute? It's the dog's danglies"). Another use is "stands out like dog's balls" for something that is glaringly obvious. I don't know if this usage appears elsewhere - a quick Google seems only to show Aus/NZ usage or cringe-worthy Australian English "translations".

I wonder whether there is a connection though with the other meaning: stands out -> outstanding -> superior ?

Jo said...

Much as I hate to point this out...I think the "dog's bollocks" term comes from the way that dogs pay such avid and lavish attention to that part of their anatomy so very much of the time. Thus, it must be something incredibly special, no? I've also heard "that's the dog's knob" in the UK, seeming to have a similar meaning.

lynneguist said...

That reminds me...I should have included a link to the discussion of dogknob (sausage).

Much as I hate to admit it, Jo's understanding of the term is probably the right one. Mine's the funnier one, though (I hope!).

Almost American said...

Hmm - thinking about it, the only people I knew when I was growing up in the UK who had dogs were all able to go home at lunchtime / worked parttime / were stay-at-home mums.

I grew up in a family that thought that no animals belonged inside the house so we didn't have dogs or cats. My American family thinks that cats are people.

itinerantlondoner said...

I'd always understood dog's dinner & dog's breakfast to mean the same thing (and I'm British) - a quick search suggests that they are commonly used in the same way, even if they did originally mean different things.

Also - I'm sure I've read that "dog's bollocks" is a coinage that's related to other phrases such as "the cat's pyjamas" and "the bee's knees" - which both mean the same thing, and I believe they all sprung up in the 1920s, although I can't find the source or the story behind them.

Max said...

Itinerantlondoner recalls dog's bollocks being mentioned in connection with bee's knees, etc. This connection is made in a July 2007 revision of OED, posted on the web at http://www.oed.com/bbcwords/dog-bollocks-new.html
I thin it may have made OED news: http://www.oed.com/news/

Anonymous said...

And then there's this article from last week's New Yorker about Leona Helmsley's will and trust: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/09/29/080929fa_fact_toobin

-h

SimonK said...

I'm with itinerantlondoner - I don't think there's really any difference in usage between "dog's dinner" and "dog's breakfast", and to be honest I think that the Phrase Finder site that you link to has this one totally wrong.

Even the first citation they quote - the one about roses in the hair - reads to me as if it's using it to mean a mess rather than to mean smart.

steph said...

but, you know, the NHS doesn't cover badger x-ray

Roy S said...

re "dog's bollocks" - back around 1990 (here in the American northeast anyway), the expression "it's the balls" meant "it's excellent, perfect". It seems to have pretty much been replaced by "awesome," which can be more safely used in the presence of one's mother.

purplepangolin said...

There was a series on british TV recently (can't remember the name or channel) that dealt with the origin of words. On one episode they interviewed a decorator who claimed to have coined the phrase "the dog's bollocks" as an equivalent of the cat's whiskers

lynneguist said...

If you click on the 'metaphorty' link in the post, you'll see that 'the cat's whiskers' doesn't work for all dialects either!

itinerantlondoner said...

I forgot - another variant of "the dog's bollocks" is "the mutt's nuts". Nice rhyming, but used much less frequently.

disgruntled said...

Regarding keeping an animal at home alone - most pet rescue charities won't let you adopt an animal if it's going to be on its own all day (and this goes for cats as well as dogs).

I can't argue with our national over-sentimentality about dogs and animals particularly when it comes to charities... I suppose an animal is pretty much by definition an innocent victim of any cruelty done to it, so it feels like a safe cause to donate to.

lynneguist said...

As opposed to children and the developmentally disabled who might deserve whatever cruelty comes to them?

Sorry--it's really one of my pet (ahem) peeves. Even in America.

purplepangolin said...

I agree that we get too sentimental about animals. In our defence, many people may assume that those activities undertaken by Mencap etc. are already being performed by the NHS or Social Services, so are less inclined to fund the charity. Whether this is accurate or not, I have no idea.

lynneguist said...

The thing that I find disturbing (and, again, this isn't just a British thing) is when the urge to help animals trumps the urge to help people in other countries (who one can't believe are being served by the NHS, etc.). I mean, lots of money goes toward helping donkeys in other countries as well.

Sorry, it really is a hobby horse of mine. And why are all the metaphors for these things animal-based?! :-P

Jane said...

A counter question - why are dogs less deserving of love and charity than children or the mentally handicapped?

If it is because they are less intelligent, then does a sound-minded, intelligent dog rate above a human vegetable on a life-support machine or a severely mentally handicapped child?

Is it because you believe that animals do not feel pain, or have emotions?

Or is it because you're a Christian, and believe humans have souls and dogs don't?

I think we humans have a built-in "specist" mentality that means we tend not to think these things out logically - just assume that humans should be better treated than animals. Why should they?

lynneguist said...

I knew this was coming!

I'm certainly not claiming that any animal deserves cruelty. (But there are less nasty forms of human intervention with animals--e.g. breeding for our companionship--that are human-cent(e)red, not animal-cent(e)red, and I'm not sure those things should be happening to them either.) We should treat animals well, we should treat people well, we should treat the planet well.

But I have no problem with being speciesist, as I do believe that (a) there are fundamental differences between human and animal intelligence/experience, (b) humans have social obligations to each other, (c) there is a huge economic and social history that has put those of us who are comfortable in the position that we're in, and we have a duty to use our luck in that respect to undo some of the damage of the class system, imperialism, etc. I see the prioritization of animals over humans as a symptom of the avoidance of the uncomfortable truths inherent in (c).

Do I think my child--or any child--deserves better conditions than a dog? You bet I do! Do I think it's ok for donkeys to live in barns and people to live in houses. Oh yes! Do I think that making a decision to euthani{s/z}e a pet is a different thing than deciding to euthani{s/z}e a human relative? Absolutely. Do I believe that hunting and fishing are morally more defensible than the serial killing of humans? You betcha.

Jane said...

> I knew this was coming.

Sorry to be so predictable. I can see you have strong views on this; so do I. But this isn't the place to discuss them - I'll let everyone get back to linguistics.

disgruntled said...

I'm not defending it ... it makes me uncomfortable as well. But you have to take us as you find us, donkey charities and all. We have compensatory virtues, and in a minute I'm sure I'll think of what they are.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Surely Americans infantilise their domestic animals, too? My American friends refer to their pets as "pups" or "kitties" even when said animals are elderly and arthritic! You don't hear that in British English, where they are firmly dogs and cats once out of babyhood!

the_sybil said...

Hm.
Here in Southern California we live just down the street from a "doggy day care" (something I don't ever remember seeing in the UK, but which does solve the problem of owning a dog while working full time), there is a specialist eye hospital for dogs just a few blocks away, there is a doggy bakery downtown, selling home-baked doggy treats from what must be one of the highest ground rent retail sites in the city, and even Target (large, relatively downmarket department store) sells doggy coats (arguably the least necessary item a dog could ever own, in the climate of Southern California).
The British may infantilise their dogs more than Americans, but I've never seen such a range of specialist dog pampering services in the UK.

Elizabeth said...

Why are there so many donkeys in Britain that need to be rescued? Are they really still used that much as farm animals in a place that it seems reasonable to assume can afford mechanized farm equipment? Is it an issue of scale or tradition? Are these donkeys being imported?

This is actually something I've been wondering about for a while, since it seems middle aged English people are always wanting to start or donate to donkey sanctuaries on Cash in the Attic. The elderly on the other hand (especially women) want to get their pilots license (which is kinda awesome).

mollymooly said...

I agree with those whose find no difference between "dog's dinner" and "dog's breakfast" (after all, don't dogs eat the same dogfood for every meal?).

My mother instilled the "dinner" variant in me, and I prefer it to the "breakfast" one because of that, but also because of the alliteration of Ds.

I also have no time for animal charities, though I saw a clever one recently that helps donkeys in poor countries and helps poor peasants whom it employs to care for them.

I also agree that the Kooky American stereotype does encompass the employment of pet therapists and couturiers; while British pet lovers stereotypically lavish their own affection on the pet, rather than paying others to do so.

mollymooly said...

I think the variants of "dog's bollocks" are playful pseudo-euphemisms of the original, since "bollocks" is still a moderately taboo word. "Puppy's privates" was famously used (if not coined) by a BBC football pundit a few years ago.

lynneguist said...

Tried to post the beginning of this earlier but ran into internet problems...

First, thanks Jane.

There are certainly people who think of their dogs as their 'children' in both countries. There's a bit more opportunity to carry through with that, in some ways, in the UK, since dogs are allowed in lots of places where they wouldn't be welcome in the US--e.g. on public transport(ation) and in pubs that serve food (which I believe would be illegal in many US states). There was a great outcry when dogs were banned from offices on my university campus (on the argument that it wouldn't be safe for the dogs--they could ingest something in a chemistry lab or something). I think there are people who still bring their dogs to work anyhow. I've also learned here that there are certain dog owners who have to be explicitly told that their dog is not invited when you invite them (the humans) to a party. I was shocked the first time I failed to understand that!

I'm not saying that any of that is better or worse--just different.

disgruntled--there are enough compensatory virtues that when asked if I want to move back to the US, my answer is always a definite 'no'.

Back to the linguistic aspects:
I've had a message saying that Eddie Izzard's done a bit on on 'dog's bollocks', but my friend can't find a YouTube clip of it. Does anyone know it?

On 'dog's breakfast' v(s). 'dog's dinner', lo and behold, I just opened some Lynneukah presents and among them is The concise new Partridge Dictionary of Slang! It has dog's breakfast (= mess) originating in Australia in the 30s, dog's dinner meaning 'smartly dressed' originating in the UK in the 30s, but a later meaning of dog's dinner--the first attestation of which goes back only to 1997--meaning the same as 'dog's breakfast'. So there we go!

Oh, and on pampering pets. I live in a UK city that has several pet boutiques (one called Doggy Fashion), doggy creches/daycare and a service that promises to take your pet on a little holiday/vacation. I come from an area in the US that has none of these things--just some groomers and kennels. So, I think part of the story is that places inhabited by people with money have more services for pets than less wealthy places.

I've seen about the charity that teaches people how not to be cruel to their beasts of burden--I thought that was good idea, too.

JaxCA said...

There are so many worthwhile causes in the world that choosing amongst No less a person than Albert Schweitzer espoused the view that freedom is inextricably bound to the way we treat all creatures -- human and nonhuman.

Oh... and as for people who are devoted to their dogs, nothing beats this guy who made the news today by punching a shark to rescue his dog:

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/man-punches-shark-to-save-pet-dog-13988971.html

Jax CA said...

Wow, what is wrong with the comments portion of this site? What I wrote was that assigning hierarchies among causes is a losing proposition. Why contribute to arts programs when people are hungry? Why give money to adults with AIDS when there are sick and homeless children? The important thing is to give back, and the way to feel good about it is to pick something that is near and dear to your heart. For a lot of people, myself included, that means animals. It doesn't mean I care any less about people, just that I have a special affinity for animals, the ultimate voiceless creatures in the world. Notice that the countries that treat their animals the best are also the best to their people. I'll take people who care about dogs any day over the Michael Vicks of this world.

Simon K said...

Lynne, I have to say that as a Brit I would be equally shocked if I invited someone to a party and they (unannounced) brought their dog with them. (Mind you, I think that our cat might be even more shocked!)

We probably all ought to get back to the linguistics aspects of all this, but I thought it might be interesting to note that there are some pretty clear links between animal and child abuse - see, for example, the research and information published by the NSPCC but supported by a large number of other animal and human welfare organisations: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/publications/Downloads/understandingthelinks_wdf48177.pdf

Simon K said...

Let's try again with that url - try http://snurl.com/40o8s

Amanda said...

My in-laws used to refer to themselves as their dog's 'Mummy' and 'Daddy', which struck me as a bit weird. But it was when they talked about my husband as the dog's 'big brother' that I felt nauseous, so I know exactly how you feel about Grover being referred to as a dog's cousin. Yuk.

Since moving to Canada from the UK I've met a woman who pushes her cat around town in a baby stroller and I've seen some truly revolting doggy costumes in the pet stores (which I presume are also on sale in the States).

Pets seem to get promoted to child-substitutes by some people, rather than companion beasts. I think this happens on both sides of the Atlantic.

James said...

An old one from The Onion...

NEW YORK—According to a report released Monday by the media-watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, U.S. media coverage of bear attacks is biased, with 98 percent of such reports taking the side of the attacked humans. "The media in this country are blatantly anti-bear," FAIR director Lynette Pierce said. "Virtually every time a bear is taunted, harassed or provoked into lashing out at humans, the bear is depicted in the media as the aggressor." The report went on to state that out of the 411 cases of bear-human conflicts in the last year, humans were victorious in 410 cases.

Stephen Jones said...

In British English dog's dinner and pig's 'arse have identical meanings, though I've never known a dog eat a pig's 'arse for dinner.

Lindsay said...

elizabeth, there are so many donkeys needing to be rescued because donkey rides have been popular on beaches in england since the 1800's, but recently it is less profitable. When I was a child 15 years ago there were 5 or 6 guys with ~10 donkeys each in each beach resort, now there might be 2 or 3 people with 4 or 5 donkeys each and getting less and less each year as they retire and nobody wants them.

Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lindsay said...

Sorry for triple posting, first time i've commented

Roger Owen Green said...

US Northeast:

Lynneguist- I'm with you on this "dogs as family" thing. I'm a pacifist, but adults who call their dogs their children make me want to commit violence. And often, they seem to be hostile to people with actual children.

flatlander said...

Never heard of the anatomical sayings mentioned here, but there's the reverse: "My dogs are tired" (AmE), which means, "My feet hurt." Why one's feet are referred to as dogs I don't know.

Dr. Tom Roche said...

This may well be utterly irrelevant now, but I was under the impression that 'mencap' was the current Brit euphemism for the condition American 1950s-1980s-ish euphemism referred to as 'mentally retarded', rather than 'learning disabled'?

Virtual Linguist said...

Reply to Flatlander - Jonathon Green in his Cassell's Dictionary of Slang says 'dogs' is rhyming slang for dog's meat and dates back to the 1920s. I don't think it's Cockney rhyming slang (where 'feet' are plates of meat).

tomroper said...

No one has yet referred to Partridge's interesting definitions of the dog's ballocks, as he spells them: 1. The typographical colon dash [thus :- TR] 2. Esp in the phrase 'it sticks out like the dog's ballocks" said of something the speaker considers patently obvious. P dates this back to the 1920s.
I like the old-fashioned spelling. For people of my generation, the word ballocks or bollocks had an antique air, until the Sex Pistols revived it.

DetailBear said...

I recently started reading the blog, and I love it.

My British-Canadian mother told me that the phrase "dog's breakfast" came from the habit of dogs to overeat when food is easily available, usually at night, regurgitate it in a safe place, and then make another meal of it in the morning. Those who have seen such behaviour will agree with the definition of "mess" linked to the phrase.

Anonymous said...

You mention Scotland's Greyfriars Bobby at the end of the post. You can't forget Wales' Gelert, a truly honorable, loyal amd heroic dog.

Jennywenny said...

Its interesting coming in the other direction how confusing the american attitude towards animals is for me, a brit.

They seem to keep them alive way beyond where I think most brits would, to incredible expense. It seems to me that a british person might just put the animal out of its misery.

I also get confused when animals getting treated so dreadfully when people also call their pets their babies.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

To Dr Roche - No, Mencap is the name of a charity that works with people with learning difficulties.

The French are as bad about their dogs, if not worse. There is, or used to be, a canine beauty parlour in Boulogne that called itself "Dog Brushing" ("Brushing" being French for "Blow-dry").

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid the best contribution I can make to this thread is this piece of briliant comedy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znZuH2BU0FE

purplepangolin said...

Cockney rhyming slang often goes through several iterations over time for eaxmple:
Aris is slang for Arse (derivation: Aris = Aristotle = Bottle = Bottla and Glass = Arse).

So it is conceivable that the term dogs for feet comes from:

feet>plates of meat>dogs meat>dogs.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

But "dogs" is not used as slang for feet in the UK, only in the USA, so unlikely to be due to cockney rhyming slang.

purplepangolin said...

@Mrs Redboots

Fair point. Is there an equivalent of rhyming slang in the USA? I saw the comment about it coming from dog's meat, so just assumed that there was.

biochemist said...

Do we really like dogs? To refer to an ugly woman as a 'dog' started in the US, I believe, but is known in BrE ... then we (UK)refer to spiteful gossip as 'bitching' (with cattiness as a milder version). Of course, this only applies to women (and gay men in camp humour).
Are the modern 'stitch'n'bitch' groups as unpleasant as they sound or this merely a new name for the folksy, life-affirming American Quilt groups that were revived in the 70's?

AndrewR said...

Rhyming Slang has been known over a large slice of the English-speaking world ; my copy of Julian Franklyn's "Dictionary of Rhyming Slang" dated 1960 lists contributions from - inter alia - both coasts of the US and/but generaly dates them to earlyish in the last century . I think this is one for Lynne .
Question - do other languages have rhyming slang ?

Apropos the question of dogs and their owners , one of my favo[u]rite words , courtesy of "The Meaning of Liff" by Douglas Adams is Scrabster - one of those annoying small dogs that has it off with your leg during tea .

Fnarf said...

Stephen Jones, where did the apostrophe before "'arse" come from?

David Young said...

I've never really understood the use of "pig's arse" in Philip Larkin's Vers de Société:

My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
You'd care to join us? In a pig's arse, friend.
Day comes to an end.

This use seems to me to have some meaning not shared by "dog's dinner".

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Surely "in a pigs arse" here means simply "Not bloody likely!"

Stephen Jones said...

Stephen Jones, where did the apostrophe before "'arse" come from?

Bizarre; I've been writing it like that for donkey's years, and never realized it was wrong, or wondered what on earth the apostrophe stood for.

And yet I would never write arsehole with an apostrophe.

Graham Asher said...

The best explanation of 'dog's bollocks', which is far too good to check, is the Meccano one (you remember, construction set for boys with girders, bolts, gears, etc.). The story goes that Meccano made two sets back in the early days (40s or 50s); 'box, standard', and 'box, deluxe'. 'Box, standard' naturally became 'bog standard' and 'box, deluxe' was Spoonerised into 'dog's bollocks'. Well, it works for me.

ros said...

One of the things I was most horrified by during my time in the US was the common practice of 'caging' or 'crating' a dog for large periods of the day and, often, overnight. That speaks to me both of a lack of concern for the dog's welfare and also poor training. Surely you should be able to train your adult dog sufficiently well that they're basically safe to be left in at least part of your house unattended?

Though, to be fair, in the American house I actually lived in, the dogs were left to roam freely either in the house or outside (with electric fencing) during the day, and taken upstairs to sleep on the boys' beds at night. Which I didn't really approve of either - I think dogs should know their place. Did you ever see any of Barbara Woodhouse's dog training programmes? That'll explain something of the British attitude to their dogs.

Anonymous said...

Purplepangolin : The TV series was "Balderdash and piffle".

Mencap, the name of the charity, is an abbreviation of "mental handicap", which until recently was the approved term for what we are now asked to call "learning difficulties".

Robbie said...

Mencap, the name of the charity, is an abbreviation of "mental handicap", which until recently was the approved term for what we are now asked to call "learning difficulties".

Is this an example of how euphemism degrades language?

As an example, I don't have learning difficulties, but I arguably have some mental handicaps, including Asperger's syndrome and face blindness.

Or am I just "neurologically challenged"?

John Cowan said...

I'm also face-blind but not (clinically speaking) Aspie.

mischacesky said...

Oh I so agree (haven't read the comments above me, so if I repeat something, forgive me). I knew I was in weird territory in the UK when a use-to-be friend said she was not able to go out unless she could find a dog sitter and that it would be upset if she was home half an hour later than normal. My enquiries about the comprehension of the concept of time and upset in dogs were met with incredulity and probably a reassessment of my humanity

Johnny E said...

I've heard a wonderful, if almost certainly apocryphal, folk etymology for "dog's bollocks": the kids' engineering kit Meccano used to come in two sizes, the "box standard" and the "box deluxe". The former is the source of "bog standard" while the latter was spoonerised into "dog's bollocks".

Regarding "dog's dinner", that's always meant a mess to me (BrE). But maybe that's because I've actually seen plenty of dog's dinners, both before and after they've been in the dog, not that the dog tends to see much of a distinction between the two.

Gesci said...

I have to say, as Americans with two canine "kids", we LOVE how dog-friendly England is, and it's one of the aspects we dread of moving back to the States. It's also part of why my blog url is "dogsbollocks". I will disagree with you on the "bitch" usage in England, though, as I hear that a lot. The first example that springs to mind was when an elderly couple at the vets was asking me about the process of immigrating a pet here, as their son is planning to soon, and, when I asked if it was a dog (meaning, not cat/rabbit/bird), the wife said "oh, no, it's a bitch spaniel." I'm really enjoying your blog!

Dave Blakemore said...

It's already been mentioned why the dog's bollocks is used (they lick them so much that they must be amazing), but Americans say that something is "the shit", meaning the same thing as dog's bollocks, but completely different to just being "shit",so I would like someone to explain that to me instead. Also, bollocks on its own can mean many other things, all of which are negative, I believe. You can probably guess that I'm English

Dave said...

It's already been mentioned why the dog's bollocks is used (they lick them so much that they must be amazing), but Americans say that something is "the shit", meaning the same thing as dog's bollocks, but completely different to just being "shit",so I would like someone to explain that to me instead. Also, bollocks on its own can mean many other things, all of which are negative, I believe. You can probably guess that I'm English.
I have heard people say that they don't have time to walk their dog every day, but then I would imagine these people are also thoughtful towards children. I have also seen people being cruel towards their children and pets, so you can't really stereotype. Much the same way that I can't stereotype by saying all Americans are obese, trigger-happy and dumb.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting observation. What do you think about the word "underdog". In yourdictionary.com we can find some definitions:
1. a person or group that is losing, or is expected to lose, in a contest or struggle
2.a person who is handicapped or at a disadvantage because of injustice, discrimination

Isn' it ambiguous?