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The Canine in Conversation
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a miserable looking dog
figure 1  


cur. A surly, churlish, ill-bred man; a low despicable, ill-natured fellow: used in contempt.

In his advice column, Randy Cohen discusses the options faced by an inquirer who has been approached by his estranged sister as an organ donor. “No matter what you do, you'll suffer remorse: donate, and you'll feel exploited; decline, and you'll feel like a cur.”reference 1 The inference I draw here is that a cur is selfish and contemptuous.

Literally, this refers to: a dog, usually in deprecation; a snarling, worthless or outcast dog; a dog of low or degenerate breed.reference 2 This issue of low or degenerate breed is an important one and can be reflected in the different ways the term may be used.

In Buffalo Soldiers, the story of African American military troops, Tom WIllard gives this speech to one of his black characters, Marie: “This evening you beat my child like a cur dog running in the street. Well, Missy, let me tell you about a cur dog. You can whup it all over town, but when it gets under its own front porch and you try to whup it...that cur'll bite your leg off. This here is now my grandbaby's place of work. What me and you going to call her front porch. And I'm the cur.”reference 3 What is evident here is that Marie knows she is a social outcast and perceived as someone “ill bred.” She makes use of this status to enhance her threat, making it clear that she feels cornered and has little to lose by fighting.

1. Cohen, Randy. 2005. Of Sisters and Livers. New York Times Magazine, Nov 27, p. 32.


2. Whitney, William Dwight, and Benjamin E. Smith. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia; with a New Atlas of the World. Rev. and enl. ed. New York: Century Co., 1914.Accessed from http:// century/


3. Willard, Tom. 1996. Buffalo Soldiers. 1st ed. New York: Forge. 82.


About the illustrations: Figure 1 is rom volume 16 of Scribner's Monthly, An Illustrated Magazine for the People © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

see also: cowardice of curs; feist; mongrel; pye dog; yaller dog; tail between legs; whipped dog
pedigree; purebred
Last updated: November 26, 2009
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