W4W: Why canines are the dog’s b****cks

Wolves and the moon

Image: Pixabay

I don’t have any pets.

We investigated keeping rats so that our son could gradually grow bored of them. After all, that’s what pets are for, right?

Attentive parents buy something cute in the hope their darling Jimmy will stop being so sodding self-centred and learn a valuable lesson in responsibility. After a few weeks the cute thing is less cute, largely because it’s grown so anxious at being mauled by tiny hands every day its fur’s falling out. Then the novelty wears off and the parents find themselves filling feeders and shovelling out pellets of poo until the poor creature finally grows weary of living in the animal version of solitary confinement and dies.

We were put off rats by their habit of marking their territory and making nests out of anything soft and downy. As our pre-teen is fast turning into a teen, that kind of behaviour is becoming pretty common round here anyway.

We considered Madagascan hissing cockroaches after my son fell in love with them at a ‘hands on’ animal event run by our local zoo. Yes, I know many of you will recoil in horror at that very thought, but they look like walking tortoiseshell hairslides to me, so I bear no grudge.

If we were ever to have a large pet, I suspect it would be a dog.

I read in a history article once that modern, Western folk cannot underestimate how much more physically brave our ancestors were than ourselves and this claim is borne out by the very existence of the domesticated canine.

Their wild cousins are often cast as the baddies in fairy tales – they plot against pigs (especially those into home improvements) and eat grandmas, for heaven sake. In recent years the UK has seen the reintroduction of beavers and wild boar, but the mooted reintroduction of the wolf to parts of Scotland has prompted outrage from many. And if you own livestock – or even cats – you can understand why.

Who was the brave fool who first wanted one as a best mate? Whoever it was, you can bet he soon earned the nickname Stumpy, Hopalong, Scarface – if he was still alive to earn a new name.

But it’s thanks to such nutters I am able today to bring you the word


as my Wednesday Word Tangle word of the day.

The Online Etymology Dictionary reckons it comes from the Old English docga, forcing out the more commonly used hund, and spreading into other European languages. But it’s a testament to humanity’s close relationship with the animal, that they crop up so often in expressions.

Alpha male

At bay

Bark is worst than his bite

Barking up the wrong tree

Bite the hand that feeds

Black Dog

Call off the dogs

Dog Days

Dog eat dog




Dog Star

Dog tired



Dog’s life

Every dog has its day

Fight like cat and dog

Hair of the dog

You’ll find a ton more here.

One of my personal favourite doggy expressions is

He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.

I also enjoy the less savoury pup’s nuts for its assonance, it being a lesser known spin on dog’s bollocks meaning something excellent.

Why are canine testicles thought of as particulaly amazing in Britain? Your guess really is as good as mine. It was also a printers’ term for a colon followed by a dash


I’m sure you can work out why.

So next time you see a Chihuahua or a Pomeranian or a Pekingese, stop and wonder. Firstly at how such a ridiculous animal could possibly be related to the man eaters of legend. And secondly how indebted the English language is to them.


And for all you entomophobics out there – enjoy.

Thanks to Kat as always for inventing W4W.

25 thoughts on “W4W: Why canines are the dog’s b****cks

    1. Haha! I would go for a dog, to be honest – a medium sized one would do, sort of collie sized I’d say. Son and I are keen, but as husband has terrible allergies to anything fluffy, I doubt it’s gonna happen soon. Even the rats were a bit touch and go on the allergy front. Know of any cures for pet hair allergy? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad you didn’t suggest a Labradoodle – they’re just odd looking, or am I being cruel? 🙂 I have miniature poodles in my YA novel – 12 of them. A lady whose house we lodged in years ago had a dozen and they were very noisy and stinky. They’ve made great characters in my book though 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No reflection on the animals – but the owner. The boarding house was … interesting. Full of very dodgy people and very dirty generally. Put it this way, we slept in our clothes for the whole week! Gives me the creeps just thinking about it

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Another barking-mad post, strangely a-mew-sing too! I doggedly tried to sniff out yet more dog-related words and phrases but could only come up with that pastime of shining torches into car windows (reportedly very popular on Bristol Downs). Decided that would be doggone wrong. So here’s some doggerel instead:

    Man’s best friend? Hair-raising blend
    Of wolf and mate (not mate you date!)
    Are dogs top pals also of gals?!
    Or is the cat where they are at?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Nicely done, sir 🙂 I did think of that car related pasttime with the canine name, but drew back from using it in the post. And yes, everything untoward happens on the Downs – or is rumoured to anyway. Love your doggerel – you should cross to the poetic more often. Any idea where the phrase ‘dog’s b****cks’ comes from? I was thinking you of all people might know. Probably something nautical – so many of our phrases are. Is it true ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’ is actually about cannonballs, or is that nonsense?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right, done a bit of sleuthing: dog’s do-dahs as a term of approval seems to be 20th-century, but no one origin or explanation seems to convince, especially as — minus the dig — the spherical objects themselves express something of inferior worth. Online dictionaries seem merely to parrot one another (sorry, these animal references keep appearing) and their speculations mostly seem to clutch at straws.

        The general consensus though suggests that it is one of a host of animal-related metaphors, like cat’s whiskers, cat’s pyjamas and bees knees (more on this last anon), which indicate the topic of conversation is the best, sort of ‘top dog’ amongst its erstwhile peers. In common with similes (‘sick as a parrot’) it probably just erupted into common parlance, spread by word of mouth.

        ‘Brass monkeys’ has been around since the mid-19th-century (Herman Melville includes it in a novel) — the ‘explanation’ I like best is that it is a common addition to The Three Monkeys. Brass curios of the trio (covering ears, eyes and mouth) were often joined — it’s claimed — by a fourth covering its genital area…

        ‘The bees knees’ has no origins claimed for it that I’ve seen, but I suspect it is a deliberate parody of the word ‘business’. When we say something is ‘the business’ (meaning the real McCoy) it could so easily be transmogrified into ‘the bee’s knees’ couldn’t it?

        Anyway, them’s me thoughts.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ooh, I do love the idea of a fourth monkey! That would be very Victorian, wouldn’t it, for the monkeys to predate the era and the prudish Victorians to excise the naughty chap? As for the animal sayings, we do like a bit of assonanace too, don’t we, so bees knees is particularly appealing and dogs b****cks rolls off the tongue too – as it were! Thanks, Chris – really interesting finds, great sleuthing 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Bahhhh ha haha! I love everything you write. Speaking of writing, for some reason my phone is not showing what I’m writing here, so I’m going to post and hope there are no typos.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Writing blind is so strange . The phone must have my font color set to white. When I write in your comment box I can’t see anything until I click, “post comments. ” Might be time for a reset.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Often wished I could ‘reset’ – put myself back to ‘factory settings’ – become a perfect version of myself with no dinks, no faults. But then, I’d lose my ‘data’ too, all of those accumulated memories and the experiences that have turned me into the ‘me’ I am. I’ll make do with wildly imperfect, I think 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooooooohhhhhh that sounds like a novel…

        Speaking of which, how’s your May looking? I was thinking perhaps we could have Manic May to try to finish the novels and then Judgmental June in which we proofread for each other… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha! Judgemental June sounds terrifying! Not sure I’ll be done by June, though I’d be happy to read for you if you’d like me to. Up fo Manic-ish May, though. Does 20 – 30,000 words count as Manic? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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