Tuesday, 3 August 2021

wag the dog

From the always engaging Language Hat, which just turned nineteen years old, we learn that the above phrase has a specific origin (see previously here, here and here) and can in print be sourced to the rather infamous 1858 play by Tom Taylor Our American Cousin (a boorish American comes to England as claimant to an estate—think King Ralph) and a scene with the characters Lord Dundreary and Florence: “Now I’ve got another. Why does a dog waggle his tail?” “Upon my word, I’ve never inquired.” “Because the tail can’t waggle the dog. Ha!” Familiar with the performance and audience reaction, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin timed his gun shot to be muted by laughter when the eponymous cousin Asa Trenchard says to Missus Mountchessington: “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well—I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal, you sockdologizing old man-trap!” More philological investigations at the link up top.