Dog (n) (Canis lupus familiaris) The wolf that after 30,000 years of domestication became the hairless xolo that shocked Columbus, a poodle you can stick in your pocket, and a border collie with a thousand-word vocabulary. Most especially, man’s best friend, his protector, helper, companion. Today, the dog detects cancers, seizures, and blood sugar levels, not to mention bombs, drugs, and missing people. He guards your home, hunts, herds, draws sleds and carts, soldiers, and carries messages. He leads you when you’re blind, gives you signals when you’re deaf, tows your wheelchair when you’re disabled. He regulates your heart. Your dog is the ultimate acolyte; he believes you are the very image of God. His centrality to our lives has led inevitably to an equally central place in our language—the word “dog” alone or as part of a description of dog qualities or behaviors finds dozens of everyday applications.
2. The person in your life who possesses the best of the canine’s traits. Your main man. The one who’s always got your back. The friend who’ll help you bury the body. Also, colloquially, dawg. “You’re my dawg, Josiah.”
3. An auto-antonym, “dog” means, as well, someone who possesses the worst of the canine’s traits, someone who exhibits mean, reproachful, or contemptible behavior. “Herb’s a real dog for selling knockoff watches to his friends as the real thing.” Shylock rebuffs the loan-seeking Antonio with “You spurn’d me such a day; another time / You called me dog.” The negative outlook defined by “cynic” finds its origin in the Greek philosophers who were called “Cynics” or “dog-like” (“kynikos” in Greek) for their rejection of social conventions.
4. A very unattractive woman. “Sally’s decision to shave her head, insert a bone through her nose, and tattoo ‘Black Sabbath’ on her forehead has turned her into a dog that even dogs shy away from.”
5. Something that’s failed or poorly performing, like a stock or a Broadway show. “Amalgamated Schmaltz has been the worst dog in the NASDAQ, falling in three months from $75 to 11 cents a share.”
6. An iron support for holding fireplace logs. An andiron. Also called a firedog.
7. One of a large variety of mechanical devices with teeth or claws used for gripping and holding—such as the tool barbers once used for pulling teeth. 8. (v) To follow closely. “Josiah’s beagle used to dog his every step, and since he died Josiah says the memory of his little companion dogs his every waking hour.”
Big dog (n) The boss, an important personage, or the most competitive in a field. 2. The constellation Canis Major. 3. The Boston Dynamics Big Dog robot, which looks and sounds like a giant mutated insect, can carry several hundred pounds for hours over any kind of terrain without losing its balance even when violently kicked from the side or traversing black ice, and without complaint. See it on YouTube.
Black dog depression (n) The phrase seems to conjoin a dark mood with being dogged or unshakably followed. Commonly associated with Winston Churchill, who often referred to the depressive side of his bipolar disorder as his “black dog.” The usage has been around for centuries: in the Middle Ages, melancholia was one of the less positive traits the dog represented. “When Sally told Josiah she couldn’t face the day, that she’d gotten up with a black dog in her bed, he asked whether it was better or worse than his daily awakening with an elephant’s foot on his chest.”
Hot dog (n) A precooked sausage, a frankfurter or weiner, usually served on a bun and de rigueur cuisine at a baseball game. From the early accusation that dog was the primary constituent of the emulsified meat that is stuffed in the casing. 2. (adj) Someone who performs daredevil stunts or shows off. “Herb, ever the hot dog at chess, loved to offer his queen in sacrifice.” Sometimes used pejoratively to describe a self-aggrandizing or nonteam player. 3. An exclamation of pleasure; also “hot diggity dog!” With the exception of Pat Boone and maybe Sarah Palin, last known.
Horn dog (n) Someone who thinks about sex all the time and may, as a consequence, become a “tough dog to keep on the porch.”
Love me, love my dog A metaphoric way of saying that a person must be accepted along with those people and things close to or attached to her; by extension, to be accepted with one’s foibles and weaknesses. Back in the 12th century, St. Bernard (appropriately enough) is claimed to have quoted the proverb in Latin: “Qui me amat, amet et canem meum” (literally, “Who loves me, loves my dog, as well”), although why he did that is unclear. “Sally’s friends were disgusted with Herb’s drunkenness and discouraged Sally from bringing him around, until she called them on it and declared, ‘Love me, love my dog.’”
Three-dog night (n) A cold night—i.e., one requiring three dogs to keep you warm. Also the American rock group that sang of their friend Jeremiah the bullfrog and wished joy to the world.