OK, so I have Covid. Many people believe that sooner or later, virtually everyone will get it … at least once. So, I guess it’s my turn. For me this is day 4, or 5. I forget. This is almost surely Omicron BA.5. It’s supposed to be mild; and milder still if you’ve had all your shots. Mark me down as the exception. Soaring fever, the works. Rib racking, throat rattling cough. Haven’t talked in days (not a bad thing ?).
This morning I woke up slightly better. Soaked in sweat I groggily arose, after a light doze, I blew my nose, took my temp and, miraculously, my fever had lost its mojo. OK, I got up and my fever had broken. I still can’t talk though (hmm, still, maybe, not a bad thing). But I wish I could sleep better.
Well, since I felt ever so slightly better, I thought that now I’m only “as sick as a dog”, instead of “sicker than a dog.”
That’s odd. Why do we say “sicker than a dog”? Weird little idiom, no? So I started doing some poking around (I didn’t have the energy to sit long at the computer until this afternoon).
First, I was wrong! (Again). It’s “As sick as a dog”; not “sicker than a dog.” This correction does not change my slightly improving, albeit still miserable, condition.
There is no clear consensus on the etymological source of this idiom regarding dogs and sickness. It’s oldest use in writing dates to 1705, but it was spoken colloquially for several centuries until then.
Here are some of the most likely candidate sources:
- The Plague. It was carried by fleas, and dogs are notorious carriers of fleas. Oddly, dogs are resistant to plague bacteria, but they are carriers. (Cats do catch the plague). How people knew to associate the plague illness with dogs, who generally don’t catch it, is beyond me. The plague, although occurring almost consistently over the past two millennia, occurred in two great waves since 1000AD: (1) in the mid-to-late 14th century and (2) in the 2nd half of the 19th century, the former across most of Asia and Europe, the latter mostly limited to China, Hong Kong and even San Francisco’s Chinatown. 
- Dogs tend to live in the moment. Especially when they are sick. Dog owners have seen their little Muffy or Bowzer mope around, or just flop on the floor for hours, like there is no tomorrow. So, when one is “as sick as a dog” they just don’t care if tomorrow comes, or not.
- In many English-speaking countries, it’s common to refer to vomiting as “being sick.” As in, “We ate something bad last night. We were sick. Fortunately, we made it to the loo.” Dogs are well known to be prolific regurgitators of inappropriate things they’ve consumed. Like that batch of freshly cooked brownies you left out on kitchen counter last night. “Where did they go? They disappeared!” Well, you’ll soon see them again. Let’s hope Fido disgorges in a convenient spot for clean up. (He might do it himself, in which case you could possibly get déjà vu all over again).
- Even though dogs and humans have co-existed for many millennia, and most humans have at least a general fondness for dogs (and visa versa) for some reason English has evolved to attach Dog to negative things. You can be dog tired. Your efforts at something failed: it’s gone to the dogs. We sometimes “bark up the wrong tree.” Inappropriate attacks might cause someone to say “Call the dogs off.” If you’ve pissed off your spouse, you might be “in the dog house.” The movie “Wag the Dog” presents a fantastic example of, well, “wagging the dog”; that’s distracting attention away from something that’s not so good.
So which is it? Or do you have a better idea?
And which idioms do you use that you can’t really explain, say to a non-native English speaker?
Now, off to a nap. Or something.
Health and peace
Joe Girard © 2022
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 I included perhaps a bit more on the plague than necessary. I included this because the plague has been in the news lately, as the bacteria (bacterium?) that caused it was recently found in graves Kyrgyzstan, dating to the early 14th century.