yaller dog. A coward, perhaps redundantly so, as both “yellow” and “dog” are associated with cowardice.
Yaller dogs, porch dogs, or just plain yellow dogs are usually thought to be your basic mongrel, mutt, or cur.
While there are subtle distinctions and regional differences among these, they also may be used interchangeably. “Yaller dog,” having its derivations in the American South, has a rich history and derives from the name given to an aboriginal dog of the Carolinas . Dogs of this breed are also known as Carolina Dogs, Dixie Dingoes, Porch Dogs, Indian's Dogs, and Southern Aboriginal Dogs. I. Lehr Brisbin, Jr. of the Savannah River Ecology Lab in Aiken , South Carolina gives the following description: “...it would seem to be just a scrawny, medium-sized mongrel with a reddish-yellow coat, upright ears and a whiplash tail curling up over its back, what rural Southerners have long called a 'yaller' dog.” Turns out to be a breed apart with an interesting history revealed by DNA testing and such.
In The South Talkin' Dictionary, the term is defined as an “abusive noun. (1) A cowardly person, (2) In Confederate-era slang, a yaller dog was a staff officer or courier in the Confederate army.” A Civil War era example and citation are provided.
Of course the best known yaller dog, one who was described as loyal rather than despicable, is Old Yeller.
Just as a reminder that metaphors such as this are culturally bound, you might like to know that if you were translating from Finnish into English, “yellow dog” (der gelbe Hund) would refer to a Pomeranian, especially if the scene were a rustic one. So while yaller dogs provide local color to Southern fiction,
they do the same for Finnish fiction. And it's a very different dog. One pronunciation for your basic Chinese yellow dog is wou n kyi, which foreigners have corrupted to wonk. Again, a very different meaning.
1. Carolina Dog Association. 2000. The Dixie Dingo. The Carolina Dog Association. Accessed August 26 2001 from http:// www.carolinadogs.org/.
2. Weidensaul, Scott. 1999. Tracking America's First Dogs. Smithsonian Magazine (March).
3. The South Talkin' Dictionary. 1998. Accessed Sep 22 2001 from http:// members.nbci.com/ south_talkin/.
4. Tirkkonen-Condit, Sonja. 2000. Language as a Window to Culture. Paper read at Towards New Approaches in International Learning, 2001, at Savonilanna, Finland.
5. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. 3d ed. Accessed from http:// dictionary.oed.com.