Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Southern expressions’

That Dog Won’t Hunt

Posted by Admin 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.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Go To Bed With The Chickens And Get Up With The Cows

Posted by Admin on March 21, 2012

Back in the day when farming was dependent on being able to see what was going on and clocks weren’t necessarily around yet, farmers would do as the chickens did and go to bed around dusk. There wasn’t much to do after dusk anyway, so it made sense for all to get a good night’s sleep so they could get up with the cows, shortly after daybreak. This way, the greatest amount of daylight was used to get all the chores done on the farm.

On January 5, 2011 CBC News published a story about sleep patterns and interrupted sleep entitled, “The Genes Behind Sleep Patterns.”  The article talked about circadian and homeostatic rhythms and stated in part:

The idea that someone can change his or her morning or night person status is pretty widespread. People who couldn’t get up in the morning are often seen as lazy, while those who go to bed with the chickens are seen as boring —- the types who can never last during a night on the town.

In the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” written by Harper Lee and published in 1960, the following passage is found in Chapter 24:

And so they went, down the row of laughing women, around the diningroom, refilling coffee cups, dishing out goodies as though their only regret was the temporary domestic disaster of losing Calpurnia.  The gentle hum began again.  “Yes sir, Mrs. Perkins, that J. Grimes Everett is a martyred saint, he needed to get married so they ran to the beauty parlor every Sunday afternoon soon as the sun goes down.  He goes to bed with the chickens, a crate full of sock chickens, Fred says that’s what started it all.  Fred says …”

On July 10, 1920 the Morning Leader newspaper published an article entitled, “Two Ohio Newspapermen May Fight It Out For The American Presidency.”  It read in part:

Governor Cox has just turned the half-century mark.  He was born March 31, 1870 on a farm near Jacksonburg, Butler County, Ohio.  His early training was that of a farm boy of the period, up with the cows and to bed with the chickens.  He attended the country schools, and finally the Middletown High school.

The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Connecticut published an article on December 27, 1907 entitled “Rolling Thunder Beat Bill Meader.”  It was an interesting article that revealed the younger generation’s view of the older generation by stating the following:

Some of the young bloods about town are of the opinion that residents of Manchester in the early days were a lot of old fossils who went to bed with the chickens and did not get out at all nights just because there were no electric lights to steer them home.

While the expression hasn’t been used very often in literature or news stories, the expression is what is called a Southernism and hails from the southern states in the U.S.  Since it was used so freely in this news article dating back to 1907, Idiomation believes it can easily be placed in the vernacular of the generation before 1907 putting it to some time around 1875.

That being said, maybe a good night’s sleep will reveal more in the morning when we get up with the cows.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »