Is Your Speech Going to the Dogs The Case Against Dog Slang

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Is Your Speech Going to the Dogs The Case Against Dog Slang

by Anna G B Nirva

Have you ever used the word "dog" as slang to express your displeasure about a topic? This type of slang is very common so you might need to stop and think about this, but you are telling your listeners that they should feel contempt for dogs to understand your meaning. You might not mean contempt for dogs at all, but it sounds like you do.

Listen to these slang expressions of contempt:

He was a "son of a bitch" (expresses a negative opinion someone's actions)
It was a real "dog" (expresses a negative opinion about performance)
She was a real "dog" (expresses a negative opinion about someone's appearance)
This tastes like "dog" (expresses a negative opinion about food taste)
She worked like a "dog" (expresses a negative opinion about working extremely hard)
He has "dog breath" (expresses a negative opinion about breath)
None of these expressions are really about dogs, of course. They express displeasure about a topic that is completely unrelated to dogs.

Using Dog Slang Damages the Status of Dogs

In our American culture, most people are indoctrinated early about the use of dog-oriented slang to convey disgust or displeasure. Most people don't think about the negative implications, and the evidence is everywhere. We see dog slang in advertising and read it in articles. A recent American television commercial actor asks where to find a "dog meter" to identify poor performing stocks. Most Americans immediately understand that "dog" communicates badness when used in certain contexts. That understanding of dog slang meaning damages the cultural status of dogs.

By accepting and using this slang, you and others express support for a culture that accepts bad treatment of dogs. You may not support that personally, but many segments of American culture do. The use of dogs and other animals in research, the sport of dog fighting, the practice of training attack dogs, the breeding of dogs in puppy mills or unlicensed backyard breeding businesses?all are cruel evidence of America's widespread acceptance of the bad treatment of dogs and their low status in some subcultures. There are many other examples as well.

Test for Usage

Sometimes the use of "dog" might not express contempt. How can you tell the difference? Use this simple test: substitute the word "child" instead of using "dog" and feel your reaction. If you feel an emotional recoil by using "child," then you know that using either word is wrong. Find another word to express your contempt.

It's quite true that your use or acceptance of dog slang does not directly result in dog abuse. But subtle damage does occur, because you contribute to a culture of acceptance about the bad treatment of dogs. Your family and friends are listening, and they accept your words as your truth, based on the strength of your relationships. During that moment when they heard you say "it was a real dog" to express your disgust, they heard your communication that dogs are bad. Many people won't be influenced, but others will?they reduce the status of dogs in their hearts and minds. They become more contemptuous of dogs.

Be the Change

Ask others to refrain from the practice of using dog slang, and resolve to eliminate the expression from your own personal dictionary of slang. Start to change our culture for the better, one word at a time.

Anna Nirva is the founder of Sunbear Squad, Inc., a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging and supporting Good Samaritan behaviors to help companion animals in need. Visit for tools, knowledge, and inspiration targeted to individuals and groups.

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