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an animation taken from the film The Mexican showing a dog baring its teeth and growling
figure 1  

 

junkyard dog. A very mean and combative person, willing to use any means necessary, often—but not necessarily—in defense of something.

Bad Bad Leroy Brown may have been meaner than a junkyard dog,reference 1 but what is a junkyard dog? Metaphorically, the term may be used in a number of ways, mostly negative, but not always. A junkyard dog may simply be a mean and vicious person, especially one of uncertain heritage who is an habitué of unsavory places. However, it can also be someone who is especially tough, that is, mean in the sense that nobody but nobody pushes him around and he may not always fight by the “rules” of the establishment, kind of like Leroy Brown. The moniker may be claimed with pride, as when congressman James Traficant told jurors his bribery and corruption trial is a vendetta by the FBI and IRS, and he will fight “like a junkyard dog” to prove his innocence.reference 2 The pride may be tempered with a bit of tongue in cheek, as when James Carville describes himself and his colleagues as “such junkyard dogs.” No doubt, though, he is baring his teeth to his future antagonists as well.reference 3

1. Sammy. 2000. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce. Mr. Music. Accessed Oct 24 2001 from http:// www.clinton.net/ ~sammy /badleroy.htm.

2. Miller, Jay. 2002. Ohio Congressman Cites Enemies in Corruption Trial. Reuters. Accessed Feb 19 2002 from http:// story.news.yahoo.com/ news? tmpl=story&u=/ nm/20020213/pl_nm/ crim e_traficant_dc_4.
I believe that a classic junkyard dog was depicted in the 2001 Hollywood movie, “The Mexican.” Brad Pitt's character, Jerry (a stereotypically bumbling Anglo guy who thinks that adding an “o” to the end of an English word translates it into Spanish), has a series of relatively pointless misadventures in Mexico. One of these plot twists involves his having his rental car stolen after which he trades his expensive watch for a well-used truck which is sitting in, well you guessed it, a junkyard. Not surprisingly, here is where the dog comes in. The truck comes fully loaded with a grungy looking and apparently vicious dog that refuses to disembark when Jerry drives the truck away. Ultimately it is the dog that gets Jerry out of his many fixes and back together with his girlfriend, Samantha (Julia Roberts). Many reviewers have given the dog in this film better acting grades than to any of its marquee stars. Just one look at this canine creature and you should have no trouble identifying an actual junkyard dog in the future.reference 4 3. Hannon, Keith. 2002. 'Buck up' Is Latest Merger from Carville, Begala. USA Today, Feb 17, 5.
I had my own memorable encounter with a junkyard dog on New York State Route 12 sometime in 1972. I was hitchhiking south toward Binghamton. As I was walking along the road I came to a junkyard or a salvage yard. There were a bunch of sorry looking vehicles on the lot and piles of car parts. There was also a dog (predominantly Shepherd but hardly purebred) with a very deep-throated growl. For some reason, I couldn't just stand with my thumb out on the north side of this dog's terrain; I felt I had to get past him. It was probably pure luck that I was not mauled; if dogs really can smell fear, he sure could tell how scared I was. That dog will always be my personal model of a junkyard dog. It is also my reference for knowing what it means to have my hair stand on end, and as long as my hair was at that point, that's pretty impressive. 4. Verbinski, Gore. J. H. Wyman, writer. 2001. The Mexican. [United States]: DreamWorks.123 min.
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reproduction of a book cover showing a young girl petting a dog, titled: The Junkyard Dog spacer
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Finally, a junkyard dog might also be someone who is treated as junk, cast out by society, made mean because he or she has been badly treated, like the junkyard dog in Erika Tamar's book by the same name.reference 5
5. Tamar, Erika. 1997. Junkyard Dog. New York: Knopf.
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About the illustrations: Figure 1 is an animated gif cropped from the sequence in which Jerry meets his junkyard dog in The Mexican. This image is excerpted from a film frame, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by either the publisher or the creator of the film. I believe that the use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of movie stills to provide critical commentary on the film in question qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

Figure 2 shows the cover of the 1995 Knopf publication, Junkyard Dog, by Erika Tamar. On the inside flap it explains the junkyard part: “On the way home from school one day, Katie sees boys throwing stones at a bedraggled, dirty, miserable dog locked in a junkyard. She is determined to help the poor animal, whom she names Lucky.” Katie is herself in fear of being discarded by her step-father. It is included in part because this is a dog labeled as a junkyard dog and also because it is published by Alfred Knopf, which has a great flash image of a running dog on it's borzoi web site. This image is of a book cover, and the copyright for it is most likely owned either by the artist who created the cover or the publisher of the book. It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of book covers to illustrate an article discussing the book in question qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Other use of this image may be copyright infringement.
see also: attack dog politics; pitbull Last updated: July 5, 2008
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