- ‘Dog’ is used vocatively in two distinct ways. It is either an insulting term of contempt, or it is almost a compliment, implying that the man addressed is a jolly fellow. As an insult, ‘dog’ has been in use since at least the fourteenth century. It is a common insult in seventeenth-century literature, the best-known example being in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1:1). Shylock reminds Antonio, who has come to ask him to lend him some money, that ‘you call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog’. He continues:…you come to me, and you say ‘Shylock, we would have moneys’. You say so -You that did void your rheum upon my beardAnd foot me as you spurn a stranger curOver your threshold; moneys is your suit.What should I say to you? Should I not say‘Hath a dog money? Is it possibleA cur can lend three thousand ducats?’ OrShall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key,With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness,Say this:‘Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last,You spurn’d me such a day; another timeYou call’d me dog; and for these courtesiesI’ll lend you thus much moneys’.‘You dog’ is an insult in Smollett’s Peregrine Pickle, and Robert Louis Stevenson, in St Ives, has ‘you white-livered dog’ addressed to a man who refuses to fight. The more friendly use of ‘dog’ can be traced back to the seventeenth century, but only became common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. ‘You jolly dog’ occurs in Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, showing a typical friendly amplification. ‘You sly dog’ and ‘you lucky dog’ are other frequently used expressions. In Hard Times Dickens has Mr Harthouse say: ‘Tom, you are inconsiderate; you expect too much of your sister. You have had money of her, you dog, you know you have.’ In Poet’s Pub, by Eric Linklater, a man who is still in bed greets a friend with ‘You’re early.’ ‘You lazy dog,’ is the reply. Doctor in the House, by Richard Gordon, has ‘you dirty dogs’ used in a friendly way.It is likely that most modern uses of ‘you dog’ would be friendly. This may reflect the changing status of the domestic dog in modern times, the sentimental view having largely prevailed over the dismissive one in western society. Dogs themselves are sometimes addressed as ‘dog’ - ‘Come here, dog’ - or more affectionately as ‘doggy’ or ‘doggie’, especially by children. ‘Dear, dear doggie’ occurs in A God and his Gifts, by Ivy Compton-Burnett, and ‘doggy’ is in The Bell, by Iris Murdoch. To insult a dog a speaker would probably call it a ‘cur’ or a ‘tyke’.Sailors are sometimes known as ‘old seadogs’ (the term was applied to pirates in the time of Queen Elizabeth) because they have spent as much time at sea as seals, themselves knovm as sea-dogs. Mr Stubb, however, second mate on the Pequod, is less than pleased when Captain Ahab, in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, calls him a dog. ‘I will not tamely be called a dog, sir,’ he tells Ahab. ‘Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I’ll clear the world of thee,’ is Ahab’s reply. That it is still possible to use ‘dog’ in an unfriendly, if not contemptuous way, is shown in Kes, by Barry Hines. A boy is being forced to stay in a shower by three others. ‘Let me out, you rotten dogs!’ he tells them. The Half Hunter, by John Sherwood, has a woman use the rather extraordinary ‘you dirty dog’s breakfast’ to a man, where ‘you dirty dog’ might have been expected.
A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . Leslie Dunkling . 2015.