You’re My Dawg, Dog:
A Lexicon of Dog Terms for People
By Donald Friedman. Illustrated by J.C. Suares
(Welcome Books 2013; ISBN 1599621231)
—Reviewed by Mary Fischer—
I was thrilled to receive a copy of ‘You’re My Dawg, Dog’ because, well, my house is wallpapered with books, and reclining against those precarious stacks, are dogs. Therefore a book of words and expressions about dogs was more than welcome, and seemed just the thing with which to while away several hours that could have been spent in more profitable ways, as things are reckoned.
There would seem little to say about a lexicon of any sort, because the title “a list of words” is self-explanatory. There is, however, a sort of “romance” attached to the history of word lists. For instance, the decipherment of many ancient scripts owes a debt to those scraps of papyrus and pottery that came with lists of word equivalencies from several ancient languages. Our book has a more modest and less glamorous goal: It simply attempts to classify, define, and in some cases, explain, the history of every commonly found word, expression, idiom or metaphor related to Our Best Friends.
As Lakoff and Johnson so trenchantly pointed out, all words and phrases build on ordinary ideas derived from our physical and social experience.* Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of the language we use when we talk about the non-human animals who share the daily reality of our existence. They are our close companions, and thus, many human qualities have been imputed to them, and vice versa.
Thus we get homely and delightful expressions such as “lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas” (p. 74), which is not merely a colorful and contemptuous way of describing someone who keeps bad company, but is perhaps also reminiscent of an experience common to many of us who will buy this book. I’m only guessing, of course. 🙂 Alas, I see no reference to an expression that alludes to an aspect of the same phenomenon: “Fleabag Hotel” meaning a place so sleazy that one might well “rise up with fleas” even in the absence of canine companionship.
This brings up an organizational problem with this edition that one hopes will be corrected if there should be another. The list of included words and expressions is far from complete, and there is little cross-referencing of items that really call for it.
The entry “hound,” for instance (p. 70), doesn’t follow up with one of the commonest uses of dog inspired language. The entry offers “someone who pursues something,” as in “news hound,” but then doesn’t mention the very common use of the term to describe the sort of man who is always on the prowl for the ladies: i.e.. “A ‘babe’ hound.” In fact, one harbors the dark suspicion that the term “babe hound” deserves an entry all its’ own.
Likewise, given the speed with which language evolves, it might not be too surprising to find no reference to the term “poodle” as an extension of the derisive use of “Lapdog” (p. 46), which the authors properly define as “someone servile and obedient, willing to do the bidding of another.” Still, this term was used derisively by the press to describe British Prime Minister Blair’s relationship to President George Bush. Blair was called Bush’s “poodle” as well as his lapdog (as given), so the omission is surprising.
Since it is rare for a dictionary, lexicon or glossary to need or include an index, the authors are to be commended for including one. No book I have ever read, however, would more greatly profit from a better one. This is less excusable in a book that was surely prepared electronically. I searched in vain for the word “cynic,” and the amusing history that underlies the notion that a dog has a lot of time to study humans, and a canine view of humanity might not be terribly flattering to the latter. I found a sadly incomplete reference to the term, alright (p.11), but not because the word “cynic” occurred in the index.
This grumpy writer becomes cynical and snappish when she discovers a lapse this glaring. She suspects that she will not do justice in her review to the work being described, and feels absolutely no compunction about it, because if a word cannot be located in the index (as opposed, say, to the process of bibliomancy, by which “cynic” was finally discovered), the book loses a lot of points in the author’s esteem.
What can I say? — it’s a fun book, but most people don’t actually read a word list all the way through. They may dip into it initially, but usually hope to use it for future reference. Because of the poor quality of the index, ‘You’re My Dawg, Dog is a great deal less useful than it could have been.
A whole lot of fun, though.
*Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, University Of Chicago Press; 2nd edition, 2003 (1980).