Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

That Dog Won’t Hunt

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 11, 2015

It’s not often you hear someone say that dog won’t hunt and have it refer to something other than actual hunting.  The idiom refers to suggesting losing propositions for serious consideration.

Just a shy of a decade ago, on Jun 29, 2005 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Idaho published an OpEd piece written by Murf Raquet that addressed the issue of licensing county dogs and who would pay for the licensing.  Part of the problem was that many of the dogs in the county were strays, and that the county was seen by many as a dumping ground for unwanted pets.

The Humane Society of the Palouse was looking to Moscow and Latah County to fund the animal shelter with an increase from the previous approved amount of $10,000 USD to $30,000 USD, and county commissioners got the idea into their heads that the additional monies could come from licensing dogs in the county.  But not everyone saw things the way the county commissioners saw things!

But there are many other deserving groups that also look to the country for funding.  The county well is not deep enough to satisfy everyone.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find the funds unless we increase the revenue,” Commissioner Tom Stroschein said.

Well, that revenue won’t come from licensing in rural Latah — that dog won’t hunt.

In the “Outdoors Section” of the Times Daily on January 26, 2002 journalist Dennis Sherer used the idiom in his column titled, “Dog Days Coming To Mt. Hope.”  The article began thusly:

Growing up in Walker County — where most folks speak southern English — I often heard the phrase “that dog won’t hunt.”

I cannot recall hearing someone say the phrase in reference to an actual hunting dog.  But it was a polite way in Walkerese to tell someone that what they were suggesting was not likely to work.

In the August 7, 1987 edition of The Dispatch, Tom Wicker wrote an article about Ronald Reagan’s peace plan for Nicaragua.  He wrote that the plan was most likely nothing more than a ploy to win votes for renewed military aid for the CIA organized and controller Contras fighting in Nicaragua. The article was entitled quite simply, “That Dog Won’t Hunt.”

In the fourth book of Volume XIV of the “American Speech: A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage” magazine published by the American Dialect Society in 1939, the idiom was listed.

‘If the’ ain’t no fools, the’ ain’t no fun,’ said usually in self-derision; and ‘That old dog won’t hunt,’ meaning that an excuse offered will not serve. These and the numerous specimens which follow have simply been grouped by the present writer under the heading of Miscellaneous, explanations being made only when the meaning is not clearly evident.

During the Civil War, however, the expression was this:  Pride is a dog that won’t hunt.  During the Civil War, the expression was abbreviated to that dog won’t hunt and it has stayed that way ever since.

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One Response to “That Dog Won’t Hunt”

  1. Another nice one. I’ve been using some of your idioms—any from the 1860s and earlier—in my novel. You’ve been a great source.

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