The Modern Language of Dog

reprint from this blog 8/24/07
The Ancient, Modern, and Future Language of “Dog.”

Part 1. The Ancient. Wherein the Author describes the Border War between Linguists on the history of the proto-word for “Dog.”

Part 2. The Modern. Wherein the Author describes Dog’s omnipresence in modern language.

Part 3. The Future. Wherein the Author describes Dog’s presence in the babble and first words of children.

The primordial connection we feel towards dogs is more than the superficial replacement for meaningful human contact that cat people claim we are experiencing. In fact, recent research shows that owning a pet is actually a catalyst towards greater social contact. But the human-canine bond is deeper than simple coexistence and date-bait. Our relationship with dogs has influenced the very formation of human language. Our growth from vine swinging apes to blog spinning humans has been shepherded by dogs.

In the first part of this series I got around to discuss dogs at the end. The takeaway observation is that dogs hold a prestigious place in the short list of man’s oldest words. We’ve been talking about dogs since we began talking, and we haven’t slowed down since.

Modern English hints that dogs are a reflection of god, and anyone who has ever found that once in a lifetime pup would agree. Dogs worship us, they refresh our souls, they hold no conditions, and they never lie. They ask little and give much. They aren’t perfect, but man doesn’t deserve perfect and dogs are probably more than we deserve as well. For all the slandering the humble dog has taken in the various religious tomes, and even the lingering pejorative treatments of dogs in clichés and euphemisms, dogs endure and they don’t hold what we say about them against us.

As with any obsession, we might be saying more about the man-dog bond than we realize. “Dog” is the 310th most commonly used word in English based on the American National Corpus. We talk and write about dogs more than we talk about horses (311), birds (312), cats (673) or even our friends (323). More than rock (353) and roll (676), more than the moon (520) and stars (420), more than cause (532) and effect (998), and even more than death (953).

We honor dogs with more lip service than art (799), science (875), industry (894) and even God (779). We value them more than dollars (866), money (374), riches (865) and gold (662). And even our concern for the poor (688) doesn’t come close, nor does our quest for power (486).

We respect them more than Kings (390), Presidents (726), and the rule (483) of law (717). And recent press should confirm that we’d rather dish on dogs than discuss soldiers (825) at war (387), despite a plethora of war correspondents and not a single dog correspondent on any newspaper’s payroll.

Dogs are more genuine than truth (366) and impervious to lies (853). They give us more direction than North (372) , South (385), East (741) and West(581). We are for (13) dogs more than we are against (368) anything (514). Heck, we’ll even take dogs over hope (633) and love (531).

I suspect that we talk sex (???) more than we do dogs, but sex doesn’t even rank on the list. I think that it’s been edited from my source since even the Brits talk about sex (83 times per million words) just a little bit more than they do dogs (80 per million), and the Brits are renowned sexual prudes.

Other than sex, it’s certain we talk about just a handful of things more than dogs. Water (84), oil (88), land (171), work (107), and school (212). Home (173), family (299), mother (192), father (213) and children (253). Music (302) and song (296) and, of course, Animal House (187-188).

And really, that’s exactly the way it should be.

[ Part 1. The Ancient. ] [ Part 3. The Future. ]

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.