Dog’s dinner


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Dog's dinner'?

The expression ‘dog’s dinner’ has several meanings:

– The literal, ‘what a dog eats at dinnertime’.
– The figurative, ‘confused mess or muddle’ – similar to a dog’s breakfast.
– Dressed or displayed in an ostentatiously smart manner.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Dog's dinner'?

A dog’s dinner is usually used with the third of the above meanings, as in ‘Done up like a dog’s dinner’.

It is largely used in the UK, where it originated in the early 20th century.

This is an adaptation of the earlier related phrase ‘a dog’s breakfast‘. The dog’s dinner version refers to someone whose dress is flashy and containing many colours and accessories.

‘Done up (or dressed) like a dog’s dinner is frequently used to described women who seem to be overdressed, but is also applied to military officers in full dress uniform.

The first example of ‘dog’s dinner’ that I have found in print is from a novel by the English writer E. F. Benson – Scarlet & Hyssop, 1902:

“Scraps only, scraps from other places. It always reminds me of a dog’s dinner,” said Lady Alston; “and all of us who live here are like scraps for a dog’s dinner, too. Bits of things, remnants, a jumble sale, with everything priced above its proper value.”

Although the expression ‘dog’s dinner’ is predominantly used in the UK, it didn’t take long for it to spread to the USA, as in this entry from the Texas newspaper The Waco News-Tribune, October 1933:

A youth from the sidewalk called to a young cigarette-smoking lady at the rail: “What are you doing there all dressed up like a dog’s dinner?’

See also: the dog’s bollocks.

Trend of dog ‘s dinner in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.