Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Sick As A Dog

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 14, 2010

Over the years, dogs have been subjected to incredibly bad press linguistically speaking so it comes as no surprise that the phrase “sick as a dog” goes back several hundred years.

Voltaire — the pen name of François-Marie Arouet — was born November 21, 1694 to a middle class family. As a child and through his whole life Voltaire was always ill. In a letter dated 1732 written to his friend Tieriot, Voltaire wrote:

My health and my affairs are shaken to an incredible degree.  I was not born to live in a city.  There is no health for me save in the solitude of La Rivière; I feel as if I were in hell when in this wretched city of Paris.  I finish by assuring you I am as sick as a dog, in other words, the most unfortunate creature in the world.

But in August 1592, playwright and dramatist Robert Greene — a colleague of William Shakespeare — over-indulged in Rhenish wine Robert and pickled herrings while dining with his friend, Thomas Nashe.  For a month afterwards, Greene was very ill — which eventually led to his death — and while sick, Gabriel Harvey penned the following ditty:

A rakehell, a makeshift, a scribbling fool:
A famous bayard in city and school.
Now sick as a dog, and ever brainsick:
Where such a raving and desperate Dick?

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