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Putting on the dog

Posted by Smokey Stover on August 01, 2007

In Reply to: Putting on the dog posted by ESC on July 31, 2007

: : Does anyone have an idea about the term "Putting on the dog"? I need specifics if they can be provided.

: One theory is here:

I think there may have been a divergence between the American and the British use of this expression. Lyman Bagg's experience of the phrase "put on dog," at Yale, seems to have become "putting on the dog" after the turn of the century, meaning dressing up with a flashy display. William Dean Howells seems to have emphasized the flashy display without the usual (in America) verb form.

The Oxford English Dictionary, while beginning its list of examples with two Americans, does not distinguish the American from the British usage, but seems to recognize primarily the British version.

OED: "p. to put on dog: to assume pretentious airs. colloq. Hence dog (ellipt.), pretentiousness, 'side'.
p. 1871 L. H. BAGG Four Years at Yale 44 Dog, style, splurge. To put on dog, is to make a flashy display, to cut a swell. 1889 W. D. HOWELLS Hazard of Fortunes I. 267 He's made the thing awfully chic; it's jimminy; there's lots of dog about it. 1915 KIPLING Fringes of Fleet 36 Ah! That's the King of the Trawlers. Isn't he carrying dog, too! Give him room! 1924 W. J. LOCKE Coming of Amos xii, I don't want to put on dog, but the Lord didn't give me physical strength for nothing. 1926 {emem} Old Bridge II. v, Young Blake puts on dog and condescends to take the order. 1940 WODEHOUSE Eggs, Beans & Crumpets 48 An editor's unexampled opportunities for putting on dog and throwing his weight about. 1950 W. STEVENS Let. 20 Feb. 670 Sweeney is completely without side or dog. 1962 'A. GILBERT' No Dust in Attic xiv. 190 Matron put on a lot of dog about the hospital's responsibility."

In 20th-century American usage, "putting on the dog" means, as the archive tells us, putting on the ritz (after a fancy hotel), dressing up in a showy manner (applied mainly to men). Why dog? That's is a question I cannot answer. There are myriad meanings attached to the word "dog" in various times and places and contexts, and I'm sure there is one that would fit here, but it would be more of a pursuit than I'm equipped for.