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Greasepit Grammar
"Putting on the dog"

by Gene Owens

Where, asked Lee Goodman, did we get the expression, “putting on the dog?”

“Does it mean people used to serve dog meat when they were trying to impress people?” Lee asked.

Bubba reckons not, although there is at least one theory on the Internet that medieval Europeans used dog skins to make shoes, and that these were the best you could obtain back then. So when they were going to a really dressy occasion, they would “put on the dog.”

Bubba thinks that yarn belongs in the same category as the one about Cinderella and her glass slippers.

“Putting on the dog” seems to have entered the American vocabulary shortly after the War Between the States, when it became stylish among upper-crust ladies to own expensive lap dogs. L. H. Bagg, in his 1871 book, “Four Years at Yale,” wrote: “To put on the dog is to make a flashy display, to cut a swell.” It may be that women who showed off their mutts in ribbons and bows and other showy trappings were said to be “putting on the dog.”

Actually, the popularity of lap dogs goes back around 2,000 years, when Greeks, Romans and Egyptians prized the cute little animals. Queen Victoria was given lapdogs as gifts, and stylish Englishwomen loved to show off by putting their dogs on leashes or carrying them up their sleeves.

“Uncle Hadacol told Ol’ Elmer that if he didn’t tree a coon he was going to tan his hide and make himself a pair of Hushpuppies,” said Homer.

“Are you puttin’ me on?” asked Floyd.

“Nope,” Homer replied, “but Uncle Hadacol was puttin’ on the dog.”


Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers last year named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He recently went into semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.

Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing
Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
Flocking South with the snowbirds
Juicy Fruit will gum up the mole works

Write Gene Owens at 1004 Cobbs Glen Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at genepegg@bellsouth.net

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