What does dog mean in English slang?

English can be a confusing language. The number of words in English is given at over 600 000 by the Oxford English Dictionary. This isn’t even counting the thousands of slang words which complicate the matter! When we take those into account, English gets very confusing indeed.

So what does it mean if someone calls you dog in English? Is it positive or negative? The answer is; it could be either! Like most things in English, context matters. Being called “dog”, “dawg”, or “doggy” can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing. It all depends on the situation!

So let’s look at the slang usage for the word “dog” in English and discover the different ways it can be used.

The Bad

As you can probably imagine, there are many ways that calling someone a dog can be a bad thing. Someone usually uses this word to put someone down by comparing them to a dog.

This could be either comparing their looks or their behaviour to the animal.

Following is a list of uses for the word dog. Keep in mind that these are rude you don’t want to go around calling people a dog in these ways.

  • An ugly or unattractive woman.
    • Did you see that woman? What a dog!
  • Someone who is sexually aggressive or engages in many casual relationships.
    • Last night John was trying to get with every woman at the bar. He’s a dog!
  • Someone who is bad or morally reprehensible.
    • You low down dirty dog!
  • A movie that does poorly in theaters.
    • Have you seen The Call of the Wild? It was a total dog!

Most often, when the word dog is used negatively it is comparing someone directly to a dog. Of course, this is a negative usage for the word. There aren’t many people who would appreciate being compared to an animal, especially a dog. However, dog isn’t always meant to be a negative thing.

The Good

You can call a friend of yours “dog” in the same way that you can call them “dude”, “bro”, or “man”. When you say it in the same contexts as you would use those words, it isn’t a negative thing. It’s simply a different way to address your buddies! You sometimes see it written as “dawg”. Some people choose to say “doggy” as well.

You can see this usage in media or various forms from video games to TV shows.

In the popular 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, during one of the opening scenes, a character in the game named Big Smoke refers to the main character Carl Johnson as his dog. Check it out below:

CJ enters his childhood home and shortly after is attacked by Big Smoke. When Big Smoke recognizes who came into the house, he stops his attack and greets CJ as a friend calling him “my dog”.

A similar example, this time from real life, comes from the TV show American Idol. A judge on the show, Randy Jackson, became notorious for calling the contestants “dawg”. Here’s a short clip from an interview he did with Oprah where he explains this term:

In the video, he explains that he grew up in a black community in the Southern United States. During his time there, he picked up many different slang words and phrases. One of them was “dog”.

Using dog as a positive word doesn’t carry any specific definition like it does when you use it as a negative word. It is just a general term of endearment used to refer to friends. Below you can find some other example sentences using dog in this way:

  • You sly dog!
  • He’s a lucky dog!
  • Let’s go grab some food, dog.
  • Hey dog, how’s it going?

Other phrases

There are some other slang phrases where the word “dog” makes an appearance.

Hair of the dog

This is a colloquial phrase that refers to drinking alcohol to cure a hangover. The entire phrase is “hair of the dog that bit you”.

The history of this phrase is interesting. It was originally used to refer to a folk remedy for rabies. The thought was that if you applied the hair of the dog that bit you onto your wound or if you drank a potion containing those hairs it would cure your rabies.

Similarly, the modern usage says that if you have a hangover you should drink more alcohol to cure it. The idea is that like cures like.

You probably shouldn’t try either of these remedies, especially if you actually have rabies, but the journey of this phrase through history is an interesting story!

  • Drank too much last night? You just need a little hair of the dog.

Underdog

Underdog can refer to a couple of things. You most commonly hear this term to refer to the person or team thought by others to be unlikely to win a competition.

In this usage, you are saying that the underdog’s chances to win are low.

  • The opposing team is the underdog for tonight’s match.

Another possible usage for the term is for an action someone can do while pushing another person on a swing set. You perform an underdog while pushing someone on a swing by running underneath them while they are at the highest point of the swing. Here’s a video of what that looks like:

Updog

What’s updog?

Nothing much, how about you?

Conclusion

And there you have it! There are a surprising amount of uses for the word “dog” in English.

From insults to terms of endearment, you can use this word in almost any way you want to depending on the context. So be careful if you decide to use it, you want to make sure the context is appropriate.

If someone calls you dog, hopefully you’ve found the knowledge to understand what they mean!

Kyle Sutherland
Kyle is an IELTS Instructor living in Tokyo, Japan. He has worked with IELTS candidates to reach their goals for over 5 years. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English Language Linguistics and holds numerous TESOL certifications. He spends his spare time with friends or learning languages such as: Japanese, German, and Latin.
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