Dog-tired and other doggie expressions

June 7, 2024 by Alison Tunley

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Dog-tired and other doggie expressions

Having recently got sucked in to the joy of cycling, I have found myself adding long weekend bike rides to my existing schedule of regular runs and swims. That’s how I ended up cranking out a 60 mile… Read More

Having recently got sucked in to the joy of cycling, I have found myself adding long weekend bike rides to my existing schedule of regular runs and swims. That’s how I ended up cranking out a 60 mile lumpy bike ride one Saturday followed by a short run, then a swim and a run on the Sunday. The Strava activity sharing app invites to you give a title to your activities, and the mot juste for the run at the end of that weekend seemed to me to be “dog-tired”.

This prompted a Dutch follower to comment that they have the same phrase, hondamoe (hond=dog, moe=tired). And since German and Dutch are closely related, I was not surprised to find that German has the equivalent hundemüde.
My natural etymological curiosity, combined with an overwhelming desire for an excuse to sit down, set me off on a little computer-bound research to investigate the origins of this phrase. The first claim you find for the English phrase is a fabulous tale involving Alfred the Great and his two sons, Athelbrod and Edwin, who he would supposedly send out hunting with his extensive packs of dogs, rewarding whichever son returned home having achieved the greatest hunting success.

This is a great little yarn, and in true internet fashion, you will find it in various forms all over the place. But does it really make sense? I’m sure hunting all day is pretty exhausting, but it just seems a little contrived that they would have settled on “dog tired” for that reason alone. My initial instinct was that if the phrase was used at all with reference to Athelbrod and Edwin, it was more likely because it was already in common parlance. But offers an even more sceptical stance, suggesting the phrase didn’t emerge at all until much later. Evidence of the phrase dog-tired apparently only goes back to the 1770s, although Shakespeare deployed the very similar dog-weary in The Taming of the Shrew in the late 16 th century.

The German and Dutch sources I tracked down have a more pragmatic explanation for the phrase: dogs need a lot of sleep and so spend a lot of the day slumbering, hence the natural comparison ‘as tired as a dog’. But the preeminent German language dictionary Duden has another intriguing suggestion, which is that ‘hund-’ can be used as an intensifying prefix to reinforce the sense of whatever word it is attached to. So German, for example, has hundekalt (dog + cold), hundeelend (dog + miserable), hundsgemein (dog + nasty) etc.

There is no implication here that dogs are characteristically cold, miserable or nasty, the dog prefix is simply a way of adding emphasis. Although Duden notes this role can only be “verstärkend für etwas Schlechtes” – reinforcing something bad. I don’t know what man’s best friend did to deserve such a negative linguistic function but if I was in PR for dogs I would be working on some dog + fabulous neologisms.


Image: Pixabay

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