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Illustration of Horatio Hornblower
Figure 1  


dog watch. A time in the late afternoon during which a sailor so assigned needs to be awake and vigilant; any unusual work shift.

Okay, so it's not one of those dog expressions that is especially common. However, being an avid reader of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series, I have often wondered about the term “dog watch.” Since it comes between four and eight in the afternoon (though this will vary depending upon the Navy in which one is employed), I imagined that it referred to the sleepy time of the day, as the dog days of summer refer to the more languid time of the year. As it turns out, the common conclusion is that in this case “dog” is an elision of “dodge.” The presumption is that this watch was divided in two, so as to create seven watches in the day and therefore create some variety for watch-standers (why this was considered desirable, perhaps Mr. Forester would know). “As a result, sailors dodge the same daily routine, hence they are dodging the watch or standing the dodge watch.” Later it was corrupted to dog. Oh those corrupting dogs.


1. Navy Terms and Trivia. 1998. The Goatlocker. Accessed August 26 2001 from http:// goatlocker. trivia.htm and United States. Navy. Pacific Fleet. 2000. Naval Traditions, Customs, & Etiquette. Accessed Aug 26 2001 from http:// cpffacts/ customs.htm# dogwatch.

However, the American Heritage Dictionary offers an alternative origin: dog sleep, i.e., an interrupted or light sleep, such as dogs might be presumed to experience.reference 2 The Word Detective seems to believe this too, though perhaps he has the same source.reference 3 It sounds reasonable, and therefore, to my mind, suspect. I like the dodging theory better. Besides, I thought it was cats who took short naps.

2. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth. 2000. Accessed August 26 2001from http:// 61/.

3. Morris, Evan. 1999. The Dog Barks at Dinnertime. The Word Detective. Accessed Oct. 21 2001 from 110999.html#dogwatch.
About the illustration: Here is Horatio Hornblower himself as portrayed by N.C. Wyeth, in the twilight, perhaps enjoying a dog watch.

see also: sea dog
cf: dog years; dog's age
Last updated: July 5, 2008
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