Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Dog's ... Breakfast?

Have you ever heard the term, "a dog's breakfast?"  We hadn't!

In 1973, renowned British lexicographer Eric Partridge attributed this phrase to a slang term originating from the lower Glasgow region of Scotland.

Calling it “a very common Scottish and North Country variant since circa 1920,” Partridge stated it simply meant “a mess”.

Perhaps breakfast was served too early for this pup? Photo: Weaselmcfee on Flickr, via Creative Commons 2.0

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang calls it “a distasteful mess”. Does it suggest slovenly habits of the canine kind?

Before we jump to that conclusion, we must point you to a related phrase: "a dog’s dinner."
If a dog’s breakfast was a distasteful mess, a dog’s dinner was something else entirely.

"Seriously? This better not be all I get for dinner." Photo: Fernando on Flickr, via Creative Commons 2.0

Oxford tells us that to be dressed up like a dog’s dinner meant you wore ridiculous or ostentatious clothes:

“LIKE A (or THE) DOG’S DINNER (also done up like a dog’s dinner, got up . . .) Of dress, etc. [1930s and still in use]: Ostentatious, flashy, or over-elaborate; (also) in an ostentatiously smart or flashy manner; dressed in the height of chic and fashion. [[Note: It’s hard to see any connection between this definition and dog food.]]”

(We got a kick out of Oxford's notation at the end!)

The phrase is probably British in origin, and most likely evolved from another phrase we’ve researched in our Word Origins series – “to put on the dog” (read about that phrase’s origin here).

This dog is ready for dinner. Please...? Photo: Jenny on Flickr, via Creative Commons 2.0

Oddly enough, tells us the first known use found in print came from an American source: the Miami News, in October of 1933:

"And on a bus top at a 57th St. trafic halt a youth from the sidewalk called to a young caigaet-smoking lady at the rail: "What you doing sitting there all dressed up like a dog's dinner?" "


A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Eric Partridge, 1st edition: London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1937.

Wikipedia on Eric Partridge
Word Origins
Oxford English Dictionaries Reference #1
Oxford English Dictionaries Reference #2
Word Wizard  

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Jonathan Green, Orion Publishing Group, Ltd., 2006.

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  1. Had never heard this expression before either :)
    Thanks for learning me something new today !

  2. I've never heard any of these expressions! What a great and fun post!

  3. Dat's vewy innewestin'.

    Luv ya'


  4. We've never heard of that phrase either!

  5. So we'd heard of a "Dog's Dinner," but always thought that referred to what a "Dog's Breakfast" supposedly refers. Now Mom has always used Dog's Dinner in the sense of feeling bad or sick: "I feel like the Dog's Dinner" or "You look like the dog's dinner" as in ill looking. Must be how she heard it used growing up. Back to the "putting on the dog:" Mom was told in Colonial Williamsburg (VA) many years ago by the cobbler that it did refer to getting all dressed up as the finest shoes in those times were made from leather from dog hide. Who knows? Thanks for another interesting look into our crazy language. Kitties Blue from The Cat on My Head is holding a giveaway for an appliquéd, feline flag. XO, Lily Olivia, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth, Mauricio, Misty May and Calista Jo

  6. Well we learned a whole lot of new stuff today. AND we loved the photos you shared (and shared properly!!!) MOL

  7. Oh I've never heard this term before but it does make sense!

  8. I used to love it when Texas did the VocabularBuildingProject and missed contributing to that. Would you consider doing something similar, say once a month? We would join in totally. Not a blog hop just spread the word about WORDS :-)

  9. We never heard that saying before. How interesting!

  10. We learned something new today. Thanks!

  11. having read all about food I think I'm ready for my Wagg dinner now too!

  12. Thanks as always for your fun sayings and facts!
    Marty's Mom


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