What is the Origin of the Word “Dog”?

What is the Origin of the Word “Dog”?

Do you ever wonder where the term “dog” comes from? We know it is derived from the early Middle English, “Dogge” and the Old English “Docga,” rare word at the time, but before that the origin gets blurry. For centuries, these beloved animals have been our companions — helping us farm and hunt, comforting us when distressed, providing us with unconditional love. It is no surprise that people around the world have had an affinity for dogs since ancient times.

Despite there being a variety of theories as to how this affectionate term entered into common lexicon, tracing its origin remains somewhat of a mystery and may span several continental European languages. In this article, we’ll explore some possible locations in which the term ‘dog’ could have originated from and understand more about why it has become so integral to cultures all over the world today.

Interesting Facts About Dogs Throughout History

Origin of the Word Dog, Medieval Dog

Throughout the ages, dogs have held unique and fascinating roles, offering us countless stories of loyalty, companionship, and heroism. For example, the ancient Egyptians revered dogs, proudly portraying them in their art, and even occasionally mummifying them as though they were royalty.

They were once regarded as emblems of courage in ancient Rome, with many canine breeds being used by military leaders for their means of protection and intimidation. In medieval times, royalty such as King Louis XIV favored lap dogs as status symbols, with domestic canines beloved by queens and their courts.

Even during great expeditions in exploration, dogs of course played a key role, such as Balto and Togo, who carried life-saving medicine across the frozen Alaska terrain in 1925, displaying unparalleled endurance and bravery. One can’t help but be captivated by the diverse and enduring history of our canine companions, as they of course continue to serve and inspire us to this day.

Although they have enhanced every aspect of our lives, the origin of the term dog still remains one of the Etymologies’ great mysteries!

What Does the Term ‘Dog’ Mean, and Where Did It Come From Originally?

The word ‘dog’ seems like such a simple term, referring to our canine pets, but have you ever wondered where it came from originally? Tracing the etymology of the words to its roots, we discover that the origin and etymology of the term ‘dog’ is actually quite intriguing. The term, in its modern form, dates back to Middle English, where it was spelled as ‘dogge,’ a word whose origins and etymology remains a mystery even to linguists as we will discuss later.

However, prior to the middle-English word ‘dog’ emergence, dogs were commonly referred to as ‘hound’, which derived from the old English ‘hund’ (akin to Latin Canis). So, how did the term ‘dog’ take hold? It began to appear more and more in Middle- English language and eventually replaced ‘hound’ in everyday speech, and subsequently was picked up in many continental languages, French dogue, Danish dogge, German Dogge. Eventually it pushed past hound in English, sister languages like Icelandic hundur, Norwegian hund, German Hund, and Dutch hond are still the common word for man’s best friend.

While the answer to the exact origin of the word ‘dog’ may be shrouded in mystery, one thing is certain: it has evolved over the centuries to become an endearing and inseparable part of our lives, representing our loyal four-legged companions.

Other Uses for the Word Dog

Hair of the dog, person, answer

The term “dog” has been used for centuries as a way to express various ideas and emotions, from longing for a better life (a dog’s life) to disappointment in someone or something (as sick as a dog). It also has been used to refer to certain types of clothing (put on the dog) and behaviors (dog-eat-dog). It has also been used as a slang insult for ages. The word dog referred to a worthless fellow from a Middle English source.

In the late 19th century, the phrase “put on the dog” was associated with stiff stand-up shirt collars that were known as “dog collars.” The phrase “hair of the dog” is used to refer to drinking alcoholic beverages in order to cure hangover symptoms. It has even been used to describe a tasty food “Hot Dog”.

Finally, the phrase “wag the dog” has become a common way to describe political strategies that are employed in order to distract from other issues. Clearly, the term “dog” can be used in many different contexts, and its usage has changed over time.

Overview of Theories About the Origin of the Word Dog

The English etymology of the term “dog” and its unknown origins has long piqued the curiosity of linguists and animal lovers alike, as its origin remains shrouded in mystery. Numerous theories abound from many continental languages.

The Old English Origins Theory

Some theories suggest that the term might have evolved from the Old English “docga,” which refers to a specific breed of dog of coarser nature – the powerful and sturdy mastiff, similar to today’s modern mastiff and bulldog. In this light, one could argue that the term gradually shifted in meaning to encompass all breeds of dogs.

The Norse or Gaelic Origins Theories

Some of which posit that the English word dog’s roots can be traced back to ancient Norse or Gaelic and other languages too. For instance, the related Old Norse word “dokkr” meaning dark, could be linked to the notion that dogs were once associated with darkness due to their nocturnal hunting habits, while the Gaelic word “docga” signifies a powerful, even superior breed of animal.

The Proto-Germanic Origin Theory

Other linguistic historians propose that general word “dog” could have stemmed from the Proto-Germanic word “dukkon,” a phrase which translates to the phrase “power or strength” in the English language. Despite these conjectures, the answer to the exact origins of the word “dog” continue to elude consensus, much to the fascination of lexicon lovers and linguists worldwide.

Onomatopoeia Origin Theories

Some scholars maintain that the word dog evolved onomatopoeically, with words imitating the unique sound a dog’s bark might make.

Although no single explanation has yet been universally accepted, the journey to uncover the roots of this beloved companion animal’s name is a fascinating reminder of the intricate tapestry of language and its ever-evolving nature. Delving into the rich tapestry of linguistic possibilities surrounding the genesis of the word “dog” only serves to enhance our appreciation for words and the myriad ways in which language and words can reflect and embody the complex relationships between humans and their cherished animal and canine companions.

The Fascinating Etymology of Other Related Dog Terms

dog, race, bassett, origin of the word dog

Beloved by many, dogs are not simply just our loyal companions, but creatures that come in all shapes and sizes. A fascinating aspect of these furry friends is the origin of their various breed names, which stem from an intriguing blend of stories, history, and culture. In many cases, a breed’s name is derived from the region or country from which it hails, paying homage to its ancestral roots. For instance, the graceful Afghan Hound owes its name to its origins in Afghanistan.

Alternatively, some breed names are a reference specifically the profession or function that the dog was bred to serve, such as the Labrador Retriever, known for its skills in retrieving game from land and water. Meanwhile, other breed names stem from a reference to a distinctive physical feature, such as the Dachshund, whose name translates to “badger dog” in German due to their elongated bodies, designed for burrowing into badger dens. As we cuddle our canine buddies or pass dogs on the street, the intricacies behind breed names serve as a reminder of the diverse lineage that makes each dog unique.

Below are several familiar dog breed terms with their origins pulled from the Online Etymology Dictionary

Origins of the Term Terrier

The term “terrier” can be traced back to the 15th century and is derived from Old French “chien terrier” which translates as “earth dog”,  from Medieval Latin terrarius “of earth,” from Latin terra “earth”

This name was given due to their ability to pursue foxes, badgers, and other game into burrows underground. Terriers are renowned for their fierce hunting skills and powerful instinct!

Origins of the Term Mastiff

The Mastiff is a large, powerful breed of dog, apparently dating to ancient times, valued as a watch-dog the term Mastiff appears in mid-14c., from Old French mastin “great cur, mastiff” (Modern French mâtin) or Provençal mastis,

Both of French terms are probably are from Vulgar Latin *mansuetinus “domesticated, tame,” from Latin mansuetus “tame, gentle”. The etymological sense, then, would be to refer to a dog that stays in the house, thus a guard-dog or watchdog. The form in old English also perhaps was influenced by Old French mestif “mongrel.”

Origins of the Term Pointer

The term pointer has been used since 1570 to refer to a “thing that points;” and was later applied to dogs recorded from 1717 meaning “dog that stands rigid in the presence of game, facing the quarry.” The latter being a very excellent description of their hunting characteristics.

Origins of the Term Basset

The term Basset describes a type of short-legged dog, from the 1610s, generic word derived from French basset, from Old French bas “low” + diminutive suffix -et—together meaning ‘rather low’. This term is fitting to the breeds stature!

Origins of the Term Spitz

Originating around 1842, from German Spitz, Spitzhund. Spitz is the German Word for “pointed”. So called from the tapering shape of its muzzle.

Origins of the Term Spaniel

The etymology of the term “Spaniel” has been used as a surname since the 1300s to describe someone from Spain. In the late 1400s, it referred specifically to a single breed of dog that supposedly originated there.

From the Old French Language (chien) espagneul, literally “Spanish (dog). This canine variety truly flourished thanks to English dog fanciers during the 1700’s who bred them for hunting purposes. Whether they are actually Spanish remains up for debate.

Origins of the Term Collie

The Collie, a sheep-dog much esteemed in Scotland, whose name was derived in the 1650s from an unknown origin. Possibly from dialectal coaly “coal-black,” the color of some breeds. Or from Scandinavian proper name Colle, which is known to have been applied to dogs in early Middle English too. Century Dictionary cites Gaelic cuilean, cuilein “a whelp, puppy, cub.” Or perhaps it is a convergence of them. Border-collie (by 1894) was so called from being bred in the border region between Scotland and England.

Origins of the Term Kelpie

The term Kelpie has been used in Scotland since 1747; however, its origins are unknown; possibly related to the Gaelic word colpach which means “heifer, steer, colt;” colpa “cow, horse.”

The Lowland name means demon in the shape of a horse that was reputed to haunt lakes and rivers and to delight in causing drownings. But unlike its equivalents in Danish (nøkken) and Icelandic (nykur), it occasionally was benevolent, especially to millers by keeping their streams running.

How the Word Dog is Used in Other Cultures and Languages?

A Xolo DogThe word “dog” carries diverse meanings and connotations across various cultures and languages, often reflecting profound connections between people and these loyal creatures. In the Chinese zodiac, for instance, the dog represents honesty and loyalty, traits that resonate deeply with those born under this sign.

In both Arabic and Swahili languages, the word for dog – “kalb” and “mbwa” respectively – is also used colloquially to imply negative attributes such as cowardice, emphasizing the darker side of some canine stereotypes. On the lighter side, many cultures associate dogs with protection, in Greek mythology, the three-headed dog, Cerberus, guarded the entrance to the underworld, displaying strength and unwavering loyalty.

In Mexico, the native Xoloitzcuintli or “Xolo” dog has a mythological function as a guide for deceased souls journeying to the afterlife. The linguistic aspect also highlights fascinating connections; in the Native American Navajo language, the same word used for dog, “łééchąą’í,” translates to “the one to go to the dogs and that is barked at,” showcasing differing perceptions of the animal’s role in society.

As these examples show, the word “dog” transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries, highlighting the multifaceted and enduring relationships humans share with these remarkable animals. Although the origin of the word dog is still shrouded in mystery, the concept of the dog in various cultures and languages embodies an array of roles and attributes, reflecting the rich tapestry of human experience and beliefs.


In conclusion, the origin of the word ‘dog’ remains a mystery and uncertain origin can be linked to a variety of theories, ranging from Old English to Proto-Germanic roots. The various ways in which the English word for dog’s life is used in different cultures and languages reveals fascinating insights into human experiences and beliefs surrounding this beloved companion. Whether a dog’s life is associated with loyalty and protection, or cowardice and fear, the word ‘dog’ is deeply embedded in our lives and language, reminding us of the rich tapestry of mankind’s relationship with man’s best friend.

Exploring the origins of this beloved pet’s name is a fascinating journey that celebrates how language can reflect and honor the special connection between humans and their furry friends. At its core, ‘dog’ stands as an enduring reminder of our everlasting union with these steadfast animals.

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