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Painting in red and black by Alan Judelson spacer
figure 1


dogfight. 1. A tightly fought contest whose outcome is too close to call.

The Washington Post reporter Kevin Merida used the term to characterize the Democratic primary fight of 2008. After Barack Obama showed strength in South Carolina, he said, “Hillary Clinton's black supporters...hadn't expected their candidate to be in a dogfight right now.”reference 1 The term refers to the closeness of the fight which is probably more of a reference to the earlier usage for fighter planes rather than literal fights between dogs. Seldom does this usage imply the viciousness or duplicity often associated with dogs.

two bi-planes in a cloudy sky
figure 2  

2. An aerial battle between fighter planes, especially during World War I, when the term came into use.

If you've read The Right Stuff, or seen the movie Top Gun, you may know a number of other colorful terms associated with dogfights. My favorite is “waxing his tail,” which is a symbolic victory in the process of chasing and being chased in a dogfight: to wax the other pilot's tail is to follow him in such a way that he could not, in actual battle, claim the superior position or elude fire.reference 2 Perhaps the term is more of a reference to the nature of the aerial struggle as one of dominance and submission as it is to the fierceness with which dogs fight.



1. Merida, Kevin. 2008. Obama Wave Stuns Clinton 's Black Supporters. Washington Post, Feb 19. Accessed Apr 18 2008 from http:// wp-dyn/ content/ article/ 2008/ 02/ 18/ AR2008021802364.html.





2. Wolfe, Tom. 1979. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux.

Charles Schultz panel of Snoopy with a thought bubble above saying 'CURSE YOU, RED BARON!!'
figure 3  
The double-dog connection here is Snoopy, Charles Schultz's canine character who imagined he was a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron. When Snoopy engaged in a dogfight, it really was one.
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River Phoenix and Lili Taylor in a still from the film Dogfight spacer
figure 4
3. A film directed by Nancy Savoca starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. Set in 1963, several GI's about to leave for Vietnam play a game called 'Dogfight': each seeks a woman for the send-off; the one who finds the most ugly one is to win a prize.reference 3 Taylor may not be a classic beauty, nevertheless It is hard to see her as a winning entry in such a contest, but the references to the dog-like promiscuity of men and the derogation of unattractive women as dogs are obvious.
3. Zoerner, Tom. 2008. Plot Summary for Dogfight. Internet Movie Database. IMDb. Accessed Mar 19 2008 from http:// title/ tt0101748/ plotsummary.
About the illustrations: Figure 1 is reproduction of a painting by Alan Judelson called Dogfight. The energy and intensity of the brushstrokes call to mind the frenzy of a real dogfight. © 2006 Alan Judelson.

Figure 2 shows an actual dogfight in the Battle of Britain from Histoire de L'Aeronautique. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 3 is the intrepid flyer. An orphaned image found on the net.

Figure 4 is a promotional image for the film.

see also: screw the pooch; Snoopy
cf: fight like cats and dogs
Last updated: January 5, 2010
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