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Dogs and Language



© Warren Fahey 2008

The word ‘dog’ has entered the Australian language at many levels.

Dogfight, dog-eared, dog’s breakfast (implying messy), shaggy dog (implying tall yarn), gone to the dogs (implying rack and ruin), hair of the dog (ultimate hangover cure), dog-tired, a dog’’s life, dogger, dog-faced. The use of the word as an indication of a low form of life is interesting: ‘he was a dog’ or, worse still, ‘he was lower than a dog’, implies the lowest of the low. To our national shame for a long period our indigenous people were forced to wear ‘dog tags’ as a means of identification. My friend, former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, gave new meaning to the expression ‘Kerr’s Cur’, when referring to Malcolm Fraser’s readiness to accept the GG’s commission to form a Government. Bill Hayden – bumped from the Labor leadership – infamously commented in 1983 that a drover’s dog could have led the party to victory, thus guaranteeing himself a place in our vernacular history. These were not the first to use such dog references. Consider the Ben Hall song ‘The Ballad of Ben Hall’ where the bushranger was  ‘hunted from his station, and like a dog shot down’. Or the version of ‘Bold Jack Donahoe’ in Paterson’s 1905 edition of Old Bush Songs, where the bushranger addresses the ‘cowardly Walmsley;

“Then be-gone from me, you cowardly dog.” Cried Jack Donahoe.’And my favourite colloquial expression  because it’s so bloody graphic: in describing a lean and hungry look – “he’s all ribs, dick and balls, like a drover’s dog.”