Putting on the dog

Mon Oct 14 06:21:00 UTC 2002

Rudy Troike

  >> ...wondered how ["putting on the dog"] could have come to have the
  >> meaning it does, which apparently has nothing to do with a dog. Any
  >> suggestions?

Only one. The expression--which means pretentiously dressing up or
displaying wealth--is an American colloquialism traced by a number of
sources to collegiate use in the early 1870s, especially at Yale. But none
of the dictionaries I have offers a derivation.

The late Bergen Evans, in *Comfortable Words* (Random House, 1962), says
that the "most likely explanation" of the phrase, which he defines as
"dressing up with unusual splendor," is that:

  >> ...it was a reference to the high stiff collar (which was called a
  >> collar") then indispensable to formal wear. Ladies' diamond chokers
  >> were also called "dog collars" as were the heavily-braided collars of
  >> officers' uniforms. And since [they] were all...used on highly formal
  >> occasions...*putting on the dog* would mean preparing for such an
  >> occasion.
  >> There was a humorous derivative "doggy," meaning spiffy or ornamental.
  >> [I found this in some other sources, as well.]

--Dodi Schultz

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