As Sick as a Dog Origin

Why do we say someone is “as sick as a dog”?


This appears to be one of the less well-researched phrases in our language, though it seems to be agreed by etymologists that it is a fairly old phrase. Most etymologists agree that it dates back to the 1700s (1705 being the most-often quoted date), and one reference on the internet claims that the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms dates it even further back to the 1500s.

Timing origin aside, why do we compare ourselves to dogs of all creatures when we’re sick?

Theory 1:
In the UK, we refer to vomiting as “being sick”, and some etymologists believe this is the original meaning and origin of the “sick as a dog” phrase.

Dogs are notorious for being merrily unselective in what they choose to munch, and are equally notorious for the after-effects of their feeding-fests. Nothing like cleaning up puddles of dog vomit after your pup found an unlocked snack drawer, or decided to eat that painted pasta-necklace your little sister made you last summer.

Theory 2:
Dogs have been associated with several negative connotations in terms of speech. “As sick as a dog” is only one of many dog-related references which link dogs with unfortunate situations. Other phrases of this type include: “dog-tired”, “dog’s breakfast” and saying that things have “gone to the dogs”. The question is: Why are dogs associated with all these negative things? The answer seems to be unclear, although it may be linked to the fact that dogs are one of the best-observed creatures since they are such common pets. For this reason their various bad habits are far more likely to be documented in language than other animals, and we are far more likely to link their behaviour and feelings to describe how we’re feeling.

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One Response to As Sick as a Dog Origin

  1. shelley penner says:

    Another theory: Dogs live in the moment, and pet owners have observed this trait for centuries. When a dog gets sick, it has no concept of ‘I’ll feel better tomorrow’, it just feels utterly and thoroughly miserable in the moment. Therefore, being sick as a dog is being so sick that tomorrow has no meaning and all you can think about is how miserable you feel now.

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