So cold you would need three dogs in bed with you to keep warm.
Many sources suggest that the origin is from the Australian outback. Most of these are providing the origin of the name of a rock band of the same name (see below) so they may not be authoritative. A more academic source (and therefore perhaps more authoritative), Climate Change in Prehistory published by Cambridge University Press, names the Chukchi, “who live in the far east of Siberia” and who are “renowned for having bred the Siberian husky” as the originators.
Whatever its origins it does turn up in American literature, and most of those included a definition as well as the phrase. A passage from a juvenile novel, Courage at Indian Deep by Jane Resh Thomas, provides a good example.
“Here, Tongue.” Cass dried the dog and coaxed him under the open sleeping bag. “This is a three-dog night, for sure, but one dog will have to do.”
Answering the puzzled look on Torberg's face, Cass said, “I read that frontiersmen slept with dog because their body temperature is higher than a human's. A three-dog night was a night so cold it took three dogs to keep a man warm.”
“Tongue's a living electric blanket,” said Torberg smiling.
1. Martin, Gary J., ed. 2001. The Phrase Finder. Sheffield Hallam University. Accessed August 26 2001 from http:// www.shu.ac.uk/web-admin/ phrases/.
2. Mansour, David. 2005. From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel Pub.
3. Crouse, Richard. 2000. Big Bang, Baby: Rock Trivia. Toronto: Hounslow Press.
4. Burroughs, William James. 2005. Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
5. Thomas, Jane Resh. 1990. Courage at Indian Deep. New York: Clarion Books.
|About the illustrations: Figure 1 is from a picture book entitled The Five-Dog Night, written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow. In this children's tale, Ezra dismisses a friend's advice (and offers of blankets) for keeping warm because he has a trick: his dogs. This image (downloaded from Google books) is excerpted from the page of a book, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by either the publisher or the creator of the work depicted. I believe that the use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of illustrations to provide critical commentary on the book in question or of the illustration itself qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image may be copyright infringement.
Figure 2 shows the group in the seventies (as if you couldn't tell, even in this thumbnail!) From a fansite that offered no attribution.
7. Christelow, Eileen. 1993. The Five-Dog Night. New York: Clarion Books.
Last updated: March 20, 2008