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figure 1


dogfall. In wrestling when both opponents hit the ground together. This makes the fall a draw and neither wrestler makes any points. One thesaurus offers it as a synonym for deadlock, stalemate, standoff...reference 1

The OED declines to provide etymology for the term and I have no idea whether “dog” refers to canines, cattle, or doges (magistrates).

Playwright Scot Lahaie makes deliberate use of the term as the title of his 2003 play. The description on his web site includes a dictionary-like definition. The play itself is apparently about a standoff between a “radical from the far religious right” and a “famed suicide doctor.”reference 2

Aside from Lahaie's use, as a metaphor this term has largely fallen out of popular use. References from the last century are almost exclusively related to politics. William Jennings Bryan, in his account of the Republican National Convention of 1912, A Tale of Two Conventions, describes the opening day in this way:

Chicago, June 19,—The first day's round of the wrestling match in which the Republican leaders are engaging resulted in a dogfall. Mr. Root received 558 votes for temporary chairman—only eighteen more than half of the convention—which indicates that the vote between Mr. Taft and Mr. Roosevelt will be so close that no one can count with any certainty on the result.reference 3

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dogfall (legal). In the legal lexicon, dogfall has a specific and apparently more current metaphorical meaning. In a footnote in an unpublished decision by the Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals we find a lively discussion of the term:

1 See Ferrell v. Ashmore, 507 So. 2d 691, 694 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1987) (“In both cases, both the contractor and the owner lost their respective claims (in the vernacular, a ‘dogfall’).”); Raybon v. Reimers, 226 S.E.2d 620, 621 n.1 (Ga. Ct. App. 1976) (defining “dogfall” as a “colloquialism . . . derived from wrestling where it signifies a draw or tie.”); Dixon v. Dixon, 306 S.W.2d 879, 879 (Ky. 1957) (“This divorce action resulted in a dog-fall, to use a wrestling term. The Chancellor refused to grant a divorce to either....”); McFarland v. Bruening, 185 S.W.2d 247, 250 (Ky. 1945) (“It is further contended that it was error...not to have given what is sometimes called the ‘dogfall’ instruction; that is, that if the jury shall believe that both drivers were negligent and their concurrent negligence caused the accident and consequent injuries, they will not award damages either to the plaintiff or to the defendant.”).reference 4

I thought it crucial to present the footnote in its entirety, fearing that any attempt on my part to paraphrase would fail to capture the nuances of this discussion.

1. Merriam-Webster Inc. 1993. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster. 183.

2. Lahaie, Scot. 2008. Playwright. Accessed May 23 2008 from




3. Bryan, William Jennings. 1974. A Tale of Two Conventions, Politics and People. New York,: Arno Press. 37.



4. Nickerson, William M. 2000. Karen Vanderhoof-Forschner; Thomas E. Forschner, Plaintiffs-Appellants, V. Edward Mcsweegan, Defendant-Appellee, and the Lyme Disease Foundation, Inc., Third Party Defendant. United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Accessed May 23 2008 from http:// pacer.ca4. opinion.pdf/ 991615.U.pdf.

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dogfall (rodeo). 1. A throw by a wrangler or cowboy in which the steer falls with all four legs under him.reference 5 2. A throw by a cowboy in competition where the steer lands “on the opposite side of where the cowboy intends it to fall.”reference 6

My grasp of the rules of cattle roping is poor, so I am not sure I really understand either one. I imagine that it is obvious that this is not a dog reference.

5. Cassidy, Frederic Gomes, and Joan Houston Hall. 1985. Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.109.

6. Scott, Ken. 2004. Power Steering. Bowlegged H Magazine. Fall:8-9. Accessed Aug 17 2008 from http:// hmagazine/ 04fall /powersteering.pdf.

About the illustrations: Figure 1 is a brief video clip of a couple of wrestlers falling together in a dog fall. One of the wrestlers is Dan Crane who posted the video on YouTube. Used with permission from Wrestling at the Mart Part !, Nicola Crane, December 5, 2007.

Figure 2 is a symbol for The Law and Figure 3 is a steer throwing a cowboy. © 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation.

see also: dogfight; fight like cats and dogs Last updated: January 5, 2010
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