Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Shaggy Dog Story

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 13, 2010

Have you ever had to sit through a long, drawn-out anecdote with an ending so absurd or anticlimactic for a punch line that there’s nothing to amusing about the story when all is said and done?  That’s a shaggy dog story!

The phrase “shaggy dog story” is an American idiom. In May of 1937, Esquire magazine published a story where in the following line is found:

One of the more sporting ways of finding out which ones are not [sane] is to try shaggy-dog stories on them.

Just 6 years earlier, Eric Partridge‘s story “The Shaggy Dog Story” appeared in the weekly left-wing British political magazine, The Statesman, in 1931. You may recognize his name as he is also the author of Slang Today and Yesterday, published in 1933, as well as his well-known Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English published in 1937.

Isaac Asimov published a short story in 1991 entitled “Shah Guido G.” When a reader protested that the story with its anticlimactic ending was “nothing but a shaggy dog story,” the author pointed out that the title “Shah Guido G.” could also be read as “Shahgui [i.e. shaggy] Dog,” indicating this had been his intention.

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