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a dog with a collar that is mostly gray with a white part in front, like a clerical collar
figure 1  


dog collar. A clerical collar.reference 1

While most residents of the United States may not be familiar with this term, it represents one of the more significant references in the discussion of the cultural significance of animal epithets. Anthropologist Edmund Leach, in his germinal essay, “Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse,” proposes that this usage is based on the metathesis that because dog is God backwards, the devil appears as a dog. Referring to “a clergyman's collar as a ‘dog collar’ instead of a ‘God collar’” is probably significant.reference 2 While a would-be critic of Leach, John Halverson, tries to make much of the fact that there is no documentation for the moniker, “God collar,” I think Leach's point remains valid.reference 3 His proposition rests on inferences drawn and unconscious associations more than actual usage. While Leach moves on without exploring the specific instance any further, I wonder if there isn't an implicit anti-Catholic bias revealed here.

While Leach does not cite the renowned lexicographer Eric Partridge, he would have been justified in doing so. Partridge not only specifies a clergyman's collar but goes on to cite the phrase “dog-collar brigade” as a name for the clergy.reference 4

1. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth. 2000. Accessed Aug 26 2001 from http:// 61/8/D0320800.html.

2. Leach, Edmund. 1964. Anthropological Aspects of Language: Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse. In New Directions in the Study of Language, edited by E. H. Lennenberg. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 23-63.

3. Halverson, John. 1976. Animal Categories and Terms of Abuse. Man 11:505-516.

4. Partridge, Eric. 1956. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; Colloquialisms and Catch-Phrases, Solecisms and Catachreses, Nicknames, Vulgarisms, and Such Americanisms as Have Been Naturalized. 4th ed. New York: Macmillian.

a bejeweled dog collar
figure 2  

dog collar (necklace). An ornamental band or collar made of metal, velvet, beads, etc. worn close round the throat by women, a choker.reference 5

This is certainly a more familiar metaphorical use of the term. Since punk and Goth styles began incorporating actual dog collars, specifically the black leather ones with chrome spikes, perhaps this is no longer a metaphorical usage.
5. Whitney, William Dwight, and Benjamin E. Smith. 1914. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia; with a New Atlas of the World. Century Co. Accessed from http://
a woman wearing a studded dog collar as a necklace
figure 3  
In contemporary fashion, the wearing of actual dog collars by humans may also be a specific signifier of that person's interest or participation in the dynamics of domination and submission. (It may also be simply a fashion statement.) Signifiers of domination and submission are easily more discernible in canine behavior than in that of humans. The use of the dog collar reference can be seen as one which calls attention to this aspect of human dynamics by pointing toward a more vivid example in the animal world. Despite the sexual connotations of this visual reference, there is no specific association with the sexual position doggie style. Apparently the metaphor extends only so far.

Of course, actual dog collars can be decorative and bejeweled and easily mistaken for human adornment if removed from their context, i.e., a dog (see Figure 2).
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photo of an open collar and necktie spacer
figure 4  


dog collar (necktie). A necktie that symbolizes confinement.

This could be a tie one is required to wear as a part of a uniform, especially if it is a menial job where the tie is present to mollify the sensibilities of the privileged while identifying the wearer as a servant.

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spacer dog collar as necktie
  figure 5

This phrase may also be used for neckties worn by those too hip or creative, who believe that they must resist such conformity at all costs. You know these guys; they wear wrinkled dinosaur ties, Jerry Garcia ties, or something else that they think is subversive, tie it with a derisive sloppiness, probably act as if it were choking them, and then loosen it at the first possible moment. Real drama queens at heart but sensitive new age guys to look at them.

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photo of an open collar and necktie spacer
figure 6  

Finally, there is the correlate necktie leash,” a trope in which a man is dragged off or restrained by his own necktie, which serves as a quasi-leash.reference 6 Someone who is on a necktie leash is likely to be “pussy whipped” or have his “nose wide open.”

6. TV Tropes contributors. 2009. Necktie Leash. Accessed Dec 19 2009 from http:// pmwiki/ pmwiki.php/ Main/ NecktieLeash.
About the illustrations: Figure 1 is a playful interpretation of the clerical collar reference. Illustration by the author.

Figure 2 is a decorative dog collar circa 1700, made specifically for dogs. The photographer is unknown and the image appears courtesy of the Leeds Castle Dog Collar Museum.reference 7

Figure 3 is taken from the Blowfish Catalog. The photograph, taken by Jamais Cascio of his wife, appears by permission ©2001.reference 8

Figure 4 shows a man opening his collar and loosening his tie. Photograph: Sarah Lee/Guardian. Used without permission. The paisley was too hard to resist.

Figure 5 is an obsequious doorman. © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 6 is an anime image taken from

7. Leeds Castle Dog Collar Museum. 2001. Leeds Castle. Accessed Sep 5 2001 from http:// collar.htm.

8. The Blowfish Catalog. 2001. Blowfish Corporation. Accessed Oct 29 2001 from http:// catalog/toys/collars.html.
see also: top dog; alpha male; pack mentality; on a short leash
cf: muzzle; dog ear collar
Last updated: December 19, 2009
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