Posted by David Keeble on March 20, 2002

In Reply to: Rethink posted by TheFallen on March 13, 2002

: : : : : : : Is this a British phrase? I'm always met with perplexed frowns when I have used it here.

: : : : : : : Camel

: : : : : : A dog's breakfast, and also maybe more commonly a dog's dinner are both is certainly well-known over here as phrases to describe something that is a complete mess. It's used both more figuratively - "he worked for hours adapting that presentation, but turned it into a real dog's dinner" - and more visually - "she turned up to the party done up like a dog's dinner".

: : : : : Does it have to do with a dog's habit of urping up a meal? Kind of like cats and hair balls. Aren't pets grand?

: : : : A similar phrase with an entirely different meaning is "doggy bag." I wonder if it's in widespread use. If you cannot finish your meal at a restaurant, you can ask your waitperson to wrap it up for you in a doggy bag, that is, any wrapping or container that will suffice for you to take the unfinished meal home. Once there, you may or may not want to feed it to your dog, but, presumably, someone or some pet at home will get to eat it.

: : : Yes, "doggy bag" is widely used in my part of the U.S. A related phrase, "go cup," is not so widely used since drinking and driving is being discouraged.

: : "Doggie/doggy bag" is widely used in California. Restaurant personnel tend not to say it to customers, though. They say (gesturing at the food) "Would you like this to go?" or ". . . to take home?" or "Can I get you a container?" and so forth. I believe "doggie bag" began as a euphemism during a time when being wasteful was in fashion. Everybody knew the food saved from dinner might be eaten by humans at next day's lunch, but we genteelly pretended it was for the dog. Now frugality is more acceptable, and "doggie bag" sounds a little declasse. Might be those hard "g" sounds.

: : From Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day Perhaps an earlier meaning.
: : 'done,' or 'dressed,' 'up like a dog's dinner.' The 'done' form derived, c. 1945, from the 'dressed', which, originating c. 1925 in the British Army, spread rapidly in the other Services during WW2, in the sense 'wearing one's best -- strictly, better -- uniform'. Thence among civilians.

: On reflection, I'm wrong. There's a definite distinction between "dog's breakfast" and "dog's dinner". To turn something into a "dog's breakfast" is to make a complete screw-up or mess of something, whereas, as has been hinted above, to be "done up like a dog's dinner" has come to mean wearing one's finest, but almost always to a point of excess. Both expressions involve having got things wrong, but there's a clear difference.

My mother, a Canadian with English parents, certainly uses the phrase "dog's breakfast" frequently for "a mess", in the sense of something that is made up of completely unrelated and disjointed parts.

See the meaning and origin of the phrase 'dog's breakfast'.