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illustration of a dog opening the lid of a garbage can
figure 1  

 

to the dogs. To waste, ruin, perdition, etc. used with: give, go, gone, send, or throw.reference 1

Primarily, I believe this expression acknowledges the multi-millennia long role that dogs have played in human society: eating waste.

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photograph of men in overcoats in viewing stands spacer
figure 2

However, the Oxford English Dictionary implies a particular derivation with a somewhat different slant. “The dogs” was a term for “a greyhound race meeting,”reference 2 meeting at which I have no doubt betting and other vices were prominent. So perhaps to go to the dogs is to be drawn in to such vices as wagering, drinking, sloth, etc.

1. Whitney, William Dwight and Benjamin E. Smith. 1914. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia; with a New Atlas of the World. New York: Century Co., accessed from http:// www.global-language.com/ century/.

2. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. 3d ed. Accessed from http:// dictionary.oed.com.
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About the illustrations: Figure 1 Digitally collaged by the author. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation. Figure 2 shows the spectators at a greyhound race at a track in Britain Oct 15 1938. Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post. This image is copyrighted and unlicensed. I believe that the use of this scaled-down, low-resolution image to illustrate the article “to the dogs” qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.
see also: throw one a bone Last updated: March 31, 2008
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