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The Canine in Conversation
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illustration of a dog lying on its back, paws in the air
figure 1  

 

that dog won't hunt. That won't work, that's just wrong, or, it's not going to happen.

I believe that this is what William Safire would call an “Ozarkism” (a more politically correct term than “Appalachian-ism”).reference 1 However Al Neuharth, in a USA Today editorial, describes the phrase as “Texan.”reference 2 Evan Morris, the columnist who writes the Word Detective, says that this idiom first appeared in print around 1933, and is heard throughout the South. He goes on to say that, “To a hunter, a dog that is untrained, too old or too stupid to hunt is almost worthless, making 'that dog won't hunt' a vivid metaphor for 'forget it.'”reference 3 I have noticed that southern politicians who wish to sound colorful like this phrase. Trent Lott of Mississippi used it for many of Bill Clinton's initiatives, though he seemed less fond of it after W took office. Mr. Neuharth used the phrase in his refutation of George W. Bush's State of the Union claim that the union's state is “stronger than ever.” Neurath says that that the “boast doesn't fly. Or, in Texas talk, that dog won't hunt.”reference 4

Perhaps when it comes to dogs hunting, a line from Tennyson's Locksley Hall describes Mr. Bush better: “Like a dog, he hunts in dreams.”reference 5

1. Safire, William. 2001. Clintonyms. New York Times Magazine, Dec 2, 48, 50.

2. Neuharth, Al. 2002. State of the Union Stronger Than Ever? USA Today, Feb 1. Accessed Feb 19 2002 from http:// story.news. yahoo.com/ news?tmpl= story&u=/ usatoday/ 20020201/ cm_usatoday/ 3821569.

3. Morris, Evan. 1999. The Dog Barks at Dinnertime. The Word Detective. Accessed Oct. 21 2001 from http:// www.word-detective.com/ 110999.html # dogwatch.

4. Neuharth, Al.

5. Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, and William John Hennessy. 1869. Locksley Hall. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1869, line 79.
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About the illustration: Figure 1 shows a non-hunting dog, perhaps playing dead, or simply rolling around on the floor, begging for someone to rub his belly. Adapted from an image © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.
cf: sic Last updated: March 20, 2008
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