Posted by ESC on March 28, 2000
In Reply to: Re: Dog and pony show posted by Frankie on March 27, 2000
: : : I've never heard this phrase in the UK. What does it mean?
: : It means to put on a presentation, usually done by a corporation to bring attention to itself or one of its products.
: : I don't know the derivation of the phrase but I would guess it is from a circus. Here in the US in a three ring circus there is always the act that has the ponies parading in a circle going clockwise while there are little dogs jumping from horse to horse in a counter clockwise motion. Just a guess!
: : I've grown up with this expression. It can refer to any type of presentation or act but sometimes has a derogatory implication to mean that the presentation had no substance just a shallow and cheap entertainment or cheap thrill.
"Slang: the Authoritative Topic-by-Topic Dictionary of American Lingos from all Walks of Life" by Paul Dickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1990 & 1998) has two entries. One, under Advertising and Public Relations is: "dog and pony show. Press conference; any carefully prepared performance." The other is under Pentagonese: "dog and pony show. Formal presentation aimed at gathering support for a system or issue. Visuals (usually projected on a screen), handouts, and large graphs are essential to a true dog and pony show."
But it has gone beyond those "walks of life" to mean almost any presentation. I believe a "dog and pony show" refers to a down-scaled circus -- a little show that goes from town to town with literally just a dog and pony.
One other point, when talking about a "dog and pony show," it's important to adopt a world-weary manner, "Oh, we have to put on a dog and pony show for the legislature."