Today whole family members – just look how Simon, Raul and Martin have replaced Médor, Kim and Pupuce, we almost forget that in the past, dogs only had a utilitarian dimension, hung by a chain in the back of the yard and fed every day with table scraps. This era has, fortunately, left an indelible mark on… French expressions!
We all have someone around us who has been ‘dog sick’ after contracting Covid. More than ever, this expression dates back to the seventeenth century. When a dog is sick or injured, it is left on its own, set aside, isolated (that word that has reverberated since the pandemic…) and gets away with it or dies in agony that wasn’t much cared for.
But this is no exception: most expressions invoking a dog have a contemptuous connotation. Let’s take some examples. The term “dog weather” refers to rainy weather that should not be put … a dog outside (funny anecdote: the English are less discerning, at home they say “it’s raining cats and dogs”); “dog character” means a somewhat distasteful person; Dog work suggests to us a mean and ungrateful activity. And what of Jean LaSalle’s insult to a political columnist last April, “It’s a dog”? For Julie Neveu, a Sorbonne linguist and playwright, “Most of these expressions bear witness to a time when it was normal to abuse dogs, where animals symbolized the outside, dirt and what could be humiliated or scorned.”
But the hatred of dogs goes back a long time, and observers made it begin with the major monotheistic religions, the first to associate the dog with an unclean being, a demon. And are the attacks of the herds and the fear provoked by the herd of wild dogs sufficient to justify this combination? This is a hypothesis put forward by researchers. For Marc Elisart, philosopher and author of Chiens (Puf, 2018) “Pagan antiquity knew how to make way for the dog,” he was sometimes a warrior, sometimes a guardian “but with monotheism, man became the dog of God, Domini Canis (Dominican), and as this matter Unbearable for him unconsciously, he must distance himself from the dog, and thus underestimate him. ”
Degenerate, beaten, martyred, exploited… It wasn’t always a good idea to be a dog and we don’t want anyone to live a “dog life”. Dennis Lafay is the author of a novel published by Editions El Viso last April called The Female Dog of Life. Why did he choose this exact title for his novel? “It came to my mind when I was composing the plot. Not only does it give an idea, but this expression also perfectly reflects for me a part of the life of my main character, Nicholas, made up of agony, personal drama and gloom. On the other hand, I didn’t know the origin of this expression. From For the sake of confident confidence, the author never imagined his romantic hero “with the head of a defeated dog.”
Sometimes it goes further: it is a breed of dog that can be attacked in its own right. When you follow someone like a poodle, you seem to be devoid of any judgment and instead in the submissive and impressionable category. And what about the American political debate in which Joe Biden criticized Donald Trump for being “Putin’s dog”? But it is too bad to know dogs. The Poodle is already second only to the Border Collie in the ranking of the most intelligent dog breeds.
French isn’t the only language that has more than one derogatory connotation using the dog lexicon. The word “Bitch” in English or “female dog” refers not only to a female dog, but to a sexual and immoral dimension attributed to the rudeness of the dog having sex. Moreover, even the phrase “to have a dog” that today seems to be a compliment has its origins in the nineteenth century to designate a somewhat fringe, annoying-looking woman.
Finally today, the use of these expressions in our everyday language represents a form of linguistic transgression; They are used without taking into account their original meaning at all. For Julie Neveux, “We always inherit, linguistically, old reactive patterns.”