Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thursday Trivia: The Tail Wagging the Dog

We want to thank you all for continuing to visit and comment while our mom deals with her neck injury. She's scheduled to get an MRI tonight to confirm diagnosis, and hopes they can fix it so it doesn't hurt so much to type for us very soon!!

The Tail Wagging the Dog

This phrase dates back to the late 1800's, and was known as a "Dundrearyism". 
(And now we have two things to explain, don't we!)

A Dundrearyism was a type of humorous saying made up from crashing together two unrelated sayings in a silly way, or by reversing its meaning -- like "a stitch in time never boils" or "birds of a feather gather no moss." They were a brief fad among fashionable U.S. theater-goers in the 1850's.

The name came from the character in a popular stage play of the time, Lord Dundreary, who was prone to such sayings. (Side note: This play will forever be remembered as the one President Lincoln was attending when he was assassinated.)

So. Back to the tail wagging the dog. First, it's meaning: it's often used to describe the reversal of proper roles, like a child disciplining a parent or a patient diagnosing for a doctor. Or a minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole thing.

 (in the video above, the tail really is wagging the whole dog!)

It's first known use in print is from an April 1872 edition of The Daily Republican ( a Decatur, Illinois newspaper) where an op-ed piece stated:
"Calling to mind Lord Dundreary's conundrum, the Baltimore American thinks that for the Cincinnati Convention to control the Democratic party would be the tail wagging the dog."

Shortly thereafter, the phrase crept into all sorts of American literature, including Kipling's poem, The Conundrum of the Workshops:
"We know that the tail must wag the dog, for the horse is drawn by the cart."

"tail wagging the dog, the." The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Houghton Mifflin Company. 05 Jul. 2013. As seen on
Kipling's "The Conundrum of the Workshops," 1890
Oxford Dictionary Book of Quotations
Word Origins
Wikipedia: Dundrearyisms 


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  1. We do love these posts. Always learn something. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Now I have learned something new again :)
    Sending (((purrs))) to your mom-person <3

  3. Yes, I have learned two new things today...And while we're talking, I loved the film "Wag the Dog" :)

  4. Oh, purrs to your mom for the MRI! Our human is on a blog hiatus for the most part, so we think we missed this initially.

  5. I missed the news about Mom's neck injury!!??? Good luck with the MRI. Hope she is better soon! xx

  6. One of my all-time FAVE movies:
    Wag the Dog

    ; )

  7. Great post and so informative!! Love that tail-waggin video, too.

  8. We're so sorry to hear about your Mom's neck. Feel better Mom!!

  9. We're a little behind and didn't know your mom had hurt her neck. We hope she is okay and feels better soon. :)

  10. We love word origins like those. They provide more proof that Beins are very weerd.

  11. For two Blonds we gonna be so educated..BOL love the video.. xxooxx

    Mollie and Alfie

  12. We and Mom love these posts when you share interesting facts. We especially liked this one with those waggly woofies. Thanks. Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo


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