Origin of Word "Underdog"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Dec 1 20:34:13 UTC 2002

>The word "underdog" is said to have originated in a 19th-century song or
>poem by David Barker ("The Under-Dog in the Fight").  Can anyone supply
>any information about when this Barker text was first published, and
>whether it was a song or a poem?

David Barker (1816-1874) is discussed here:


... apparently his first well-known poem was published in the New York
Evening Post in 1854 (it says here).

Barker's book "Poems" was published in 1876, apparently. No copy is
immediately available to me. Presumably the poem in question (whether or
not it's in this book) was published in a periodical at some earlier date.

The poem "The Under-Dog in the Fight" was apparently well known. This
expression apparently was taken up by Mark Twain (I don't know what date).
I don't know whether it began with Barker or whether it was already a stock
phrase before his poem.

Incidentally, MoA (Cornell) includes the following item "antedating" the
big dictionaries by 25 years (which item perhaps was already noticed by
Fred Shapiro):

1862: Dennar Stuart, "Camp-Meeting in Tennessee", in Harper's
26(151):97-102: p. 100:

<<"And, bretheren, you and I know that occasionally, if not oftener, I've
been the under-dog in the fight. ...">>

-- Doug Wilson

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