a guess on pooch=dog origin

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Sep 2 02:32:23 UTC 2003


>Here's a speculation on the origin of pooch=dog which the OED lists as
>unknown.  The 1912  evidence Barry has just uncovered is just a decade
>after the
>first dialect evidence of the noun and verb pooch meaning 'pouch' or "to bulge
>out".

"Pooch" and "pouch" are the same word in this sense, I think. "Pooch" is
the sound which "pouch" has in some dialects and particularly in Scots
(where /putS/ is written both "pouch" and "pooch"). "Pooch out" is exactly
"pouch out" and many derivatives have both forms, with "pouch-mouth[ed]"
for example appearing in the Century Dictionary (1889) and "pouch-mouth"
described as "old" in Farmer and Henley (1902). I don't think there's any
doubt that the "pooch" in "pooch out" etc. is "pouch". The question is
whence the OTHER (?) "pooch" meaning "dog".

Partridge derives "pooch" from a German pet name for a dog "Putzi",
presumably related to "putzig" = "tidy" or so.

A derivation from "pooch" = "pouch" would be more natural, surely ... but
why would a dog be called a pouch?

To the extent that "pooch" is more specific than "dog" it tends to mean not
"jowly dog" but "small dog" or "worthless dog" (in Mathews for example).
Perhaps one can picture a lapdog, small and nonproductive, a mere pet (not
a working dog).

One interesting point is that "pouch" (i.e., "pooch" /putS/) is/was a
standard word for "pocket" in 19th century Scots (also once in English, I
think). [It even has senses like "money" derived from "pocket", and to
pouch something is to put it in one's pocket.] Now one possibility is that
"pouch dog" was "pocket dog" in Scots: i.e., either a small dog or one
which is a mere pocket accessory (not a working dog). I think this is the
most natural derivation. Attributive "pocket" can be applied to anything
small (e.g., "pocket Hercules" = "small strong man", "pocket battleship" =
"small battleship").

If "pouch dog" was pronounced "pooch[ie] dog" (opaque Scots pronunciation)
it would be natural for the expression to be reanalyzed with "pooch[ie]" =
"dog[gy]" as a reduplication like "kittycat", I think.

But was there a fixed expression like "pouch dog"? I would be inclined to
think that there probably was, IF there was "pocket dog" ("pouch dog" would
be the Scots version). Was there "pocket dog" in the 19th century? I don't
know, but there is today ... although I don't see it in my dictionaries at
a glance. Google for "a pocket dog" and you will find the expression used
repeatedly in the appropriate context, at least in some cases something
like "lapdog" ... in its figurative sense too! For example:

----------

<<They supply you with the best of all worlds, the size of a pocket dog,
the beauty and grace of any "high fashion" breed, the energy and ability of
a large dog ....>>

<<He had a gentle beard, which Laura would fondle like a small pet, a
pocket dog ....>>

<<Good thing the prime minister Chr├ętien stoped [sic] being a pocket dog
for the US and said Canada won't get involved in this ....>>

----------

If this hypothesis has any merit, one would like to find "pocket dog",
"pouch dog", and/or "pooch[y] dog" attested in the 19th century.

-- Doug Wilson



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