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The Canine in Conversation
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illustration of boy looking at dog in mirror Dog as Self and Other

In Conclusion

The unstable equation of dogs and humans creates a rich vein of metaphor, simile, and idiom.  The propensity to move between the categories of persons and not-persons makes dogs especially amenable to be used as symbols of the Other.  Their apparent comfort, even pleasure, in the subordinate role of the Other makes them both a signifier of non-Self and of the ideal Other as constructed by the dominant social group.  While there are numerous cases where the manifestation of this is explicit, such as, dog (to describe an “unattractive” woman), dogpatch, in the dog house, dawg (as a reference to a black male), and the many forms of bitch, it is equally important to be aware of it when the reference is less direct.  Not every metaphor, idiom, or homily involving dogs participates in the narratives of the dog as a quasi-self or as the Other.  Yet, once alerted, for the attentive reader or listener it seems as if the possibility is always present.

The stated goal of this essay is call special attention to the evocation of dogs as references to humans and human behavior.  In his essay “As Charming as a Pig” Arran Stibbe asserts that when an ideology is linguistically implicit, as it typically is with such animal references, “it cannot be resisted through direct opposition of the propositional content of the language in which it is embedded” and can only challenged through critical engagement with the language itself.reference 43 Such critical engagement can take many forms such as considering in what connotative ways the narratives discussed here are being called upon when the word “dog” is used adjectivally.  Attention can be paid to the depth with which the perspective that is described here is ingrained in common linguistic practice.  When dogs are referenced, consideration can be given to the nature of the inference that might be taken and to the impact which may be experienced by a listener or reader, whether intended or not.  When an idiom involving dogs is used, the speaker or writer can give thought to the choice and its significance.  The consequences may be trivial or substantial, so bear in mind a bit of advice that classical Romans thought useful enough to inscribe in their mosaic floors: cave canem, beware of the dog. 43. Stibbe, Arran. 2003. As Charming as a Pig: The Discursive Constrution of the Relationship between Pigs and Humans. Society & Animals 4 (4):375-392.
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