Posted by James Briggs on August 05, 2003
In Reply to: Going to see a man about a dog posted by ESC on August 05, 2003
: : I've written previously about some of my grandfather's expressions.
: : It also occurs to me that when I used to visit my grandparents as a child, my grandmother and grandfather had different ways of referring to going to the toilet. He would say "I'm going to see a man about a dog" and she would say "I need to spend a penny". I can guess the origins of her expression but am less clear on the origins of his. Any ideas?
: : Could both be classified as euphemisms? Are there many similar expressions?
: Yes. "Going to go see Miss Murphy."
To explain the phrase for non-native English speakers: When someone says that they are going to see a man about a dog they really mean that they are unwilling to reveal the true nature of their business.
The expression comes from the long forgotten 1866 play Flying Scud by a prolific Irish-born playwright of the period named Dion Boucicault. One of the characters uses the words as an excuse to get away from a tricky situation. This character, an eccentric and superannuated old jockey, says: "Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can't stop; I've got to see a man about a dog". This is the only thing that seems to have survived from the play.