Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sick as a Dog (and Other Odd Phrases)

Warning: If you are weak of stomach, or if the word etymology fills you with dread, you might want to skip today's post. The title of it will give you an idea of what to expect. You have been warned. (Wuss!)

Sick as a DogI've used the term "sick as a dog" a few times over the last several days. Almost everybody has used it, or at least heard it said. But, what exactly does it mean?

Contrary to popular usage, "sick as a dog" does not refer to a simple cold, or the flu. Aches, pains, chills, fevers, coughs, and runny noses have little to do with the origin of this oft-used turn of phrase. It does, however, refer to dogs. More specifically, to the rather unpleasant after effects of a dog eating things which are less than agreeable for their little doggy tummies. Yup, that's right. Dog yak.

In America, we might say we are "sick" to describe a cold or flu, while Brits would say they are "ill". In the United Kingdom, the word "sick" typically refers to vomit. To "be sick" in England would mean "to vomit".

If you know anything about dogs, you know when a dog eats something (and they eat damn near ANYthing) that is not good for them, it comes back out in worse shape than it went down. Usually on your freshly cleaned carpet. Or the middle of the couch. It's never pleasant, and I'm sure the dog doesn't much care for it either. (Though many of them will sniff their recent stench wafting ejecta and eagerly slurp it back up .. only to redeliver their payload to another part of the house).

All that rather uneeded printed visualization brings me to my point ... "sick as a dog" means to vomit like one.

Which is exactly what I've been doing for several days. Except for the lapping it back up part. Mainly because my head won't fit in the toilet. (Kidding! I'm so kidding ... stop looking at me like that!)

Under the WeatherAnother phrase commonly used to describe someone who is sick (ill, not sick, ill ... didn't I just go over that? sheesh), and one much less disgusting than the above colloquialism, is "under the weather".

Now this one seems pretty straightforward. Or, is it?

Several different attributions to the origination of "under the weather" can be found.

The most commonly accepted origination comes from America around 1827 and refers to how the literal weather can affect one's moods or health. Therefore, with this meaning, "under the weather" simply means climatological effects have influenced your health. Likely this has also helped given rise to the old-wives tales about cold weather and getting sick (I mean ill!).

Another possible origination of the idiom might be derived from an old nautical term "under the weather bow". A weather bow, on a ship, is the side of a ship's bow that is taking the brunt of a storm or other rough seas. If you've ever been on a ship, you may have experienced the up and down, back and forth motion waves cause. You may have even gotten nauseaus from it, or seasick, to be exact. Having a cold or flu can make you feel very similar. You might even become sick as a dog from being under the weather.

A third, less cited, origination is also nautical in derivation. When a sailor was indeed ill, he was kept below decks, or out of the weather. Thus, being under the deck was being under the weather. The phrase may have slipped into common usage by sailors describing someone who was ill (or sick!).

I had more phrases to discuss, but as I'm feeling green around the gills, I think I will retire before I toss my cookies.


Bruiser said...

Geeze, woman! Get better already, wouldja? We've got missions to run, quests to do, and we need some bad puns to groan at. So feel better, please. We're waitin' on ya.

Anonymous said...

I ran across your blog as I was googling "sick as a dog." One of my friends used that phrase earlier today, and I started wondering, "What DOES that mean?" Apparently I'm not the only one who sits around pondering such minutia. Of course, I like to think of it as increasing my knowledge base. Anyhoo, from the number of hits I got, a lot of people have asked this very same question. But, of all the responses I read, I have to tell you that yours was the most entertaining by far! And, coincidentally, my friend had also told me that she had been "yakking." You said "yak," she said "yak"--that sealed it for me. As far as I'm concerned, your explanation of "sick as a dog" is THE explanation. I need look no further!

And, since you apparently like puns, I'll share this one with you. My "sick as a dog" friend recently had her ENTIRE colon removed (just the thought makes me want to yak). Before they were certain they would have to remove the whole thing, she told her doctors that she hoped they would only remove half...then she would be a SEMI-COLON!

Thanks for an entertaining read!


robthenurse said...

Common African American phrase? I was giving out this year's flu shots in our Seattle clinic. Some patients refuse to take the vaccine because it can cause fever and aches the day after injection, though it cannot cause the flu. All of the four elderly and one middle aged African Americans who refused their vaccine said "It makes me sick as a dog." No caucasion or asian patients used this turn of phrase to describe that set of symptoms. Perhaps this is one of the many quaint Southern phrases of British origin that has stayed in the African American lexicon. Notice the meaning shift from vomitting to being feverish. Any comments? Delightfully, just a couple days after I puzzled over this, one of my Chinese patients and her Austrian husband approached me with the very same question, adding "Our dog never gets sick." thus this morning's search. Thank you for this blog. It's a treasure for the logophile.

Johnny Smoke said...

I don't think the term "sick as a dog" is unique to the African American, however it could have come up from the South. I grew up in the "white bread" Midwest and we used the term all the time. I also have to agree with your Chinese patient that it's very rare to see a sick dog which might also denote the severity of the situation.

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Anonymouse said...

In merseyside this is an old saying and like many others I do not think it is used by the young. I don't know what they say as I am not one of their group anymore and sadly not for a very long time. A popular phrase around here when I was young and a beginner at drinking beer was 'I spewed my ring' as in anal sphincter, very descriptive I think. It was used by a drinking friend we called the four pint wonder because after four pints and he was sick as a dog.

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Anonymous said...

Is it possible that "sick as a dog" came about in 1929/'30 when Admiral Byrd took dogs on his ship to explore the Antarctic? and the dogs did get sick on ship board....

Unknown said...

This may old. But quite well stated. I now know I'm not sick as a dog or under the weather just enjoying poor health.

Unknown said...

This may old. But quite well stated. I now know I'm not sick as a dog or under the weather just enjoying poor health.

Anonymous said...

You know, I am almost certain the phrase "sick as a dog," originated in the deep south. I grew up all my life hearing my mother use it to us kids. Only she (and other members of my extended family used it as well) added another word. Mother: "Y'all get your asses in this house out of that rain. Next thing I know you'll be 'sick as a yard dog.'" I think the yard dog just implied most dogs were just that, outside, i.e. "yard" dog.

Liz Duff said...

I always believed the saying "I feel sick as a dog" originated in New Zealand. Actually it has been used since the 1700s. Also in NZ we say "Only dogs worry and we shoot dogs." Well this is true we do shoot dogs who worry sheep.