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Peter Wimsey and Bunter in the snow
figure 1  

 

dogsbody or dog robber. Servant, gofer, personal assistant.

Dogsbody is not commonplace in American conversation; indeed, it’s British. If you hear an American use it, no doubt they read a lot of English fiction, probably mystery novels. Dog robber, also of military origin, is American but long out of use.reference 1 The closest in contemporary U.S. English may be “gofer,” a different species performing similar functions: a dogsbody goes for things for his or her superior. More politely we might say “personal assistant” or more classically, “general factotum,” but we probably would not.

The term has an interesting history, however. First, it supposedly was a British Royal Navy reference to boiled peas (though I am skeptical, since C.S. Forester never used the term). Let's say it was akin to “mystery meat,” except it was vegetarian; it was a lowly food and probably looked vomitous. Military organizations (hierarchical and often employing ritual humiliation) love using these kinds of nicknames for other human beings. So, your gofer on a British ship of war was called the most disgusting thing that the officer could think of: dogsbody was it.reference 2

1. Cassidy, Frederic Gomes, and Joan Houston Hall. 1985. Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 117.

 

 

2. Morris, Evan. 1999. And, of Course, the Poloponies. The Word Detective. Accessed Oct. 23 2001 from http:// www.word-detective.com/back-k2.html#dogsbody.

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About the illustration: Here we see the famous detective Lord Peter Wimsey with his faithful servant, Bunter, on a cover for the novel The Nine Tailors. While Bunter is not exactly a dogsbody, he will do for the moment. Note that Bunter is holding both map and light, while Wimsey looks and thinks. This is the division of labor one should expect if one is or has a dogsbody. This work is copyrighted and unlicensed. I believe that the use of this work in the article “dogsbody” to illustrate the subject in question qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Other uses of this image may constitute copyright infringement.
see also: fetch
cf: dog's breakfast
Last updated: August 17, 2008
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