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illustration of two women with question marks over their heads while a speech bubble emerges above a man's head with the words 'bar-bar' inside
figure 1  


dog Latin. Some sources simply define dog Latin as barbarous or mangledreference 1 and others make it akin to a kind of pidgin Latin.reference 2

It would appear to be not as much fun as ig-Pay atin-Lay and more like Pierre Escargot's fractured French. The Reader's Encyclopedia provides a wonderful example of the pretend or “mongrel” version of dog Latin in Wallace Stevens' definition of a kitchen:

As the law classically expresses it, a kitchen is “camera necessaria pro usus cookare; cum saucepannis, stewpannis, scullero, dressero, coalholo stovis, smoakjacko; pro rostandum, boilandum, fryandum et plum-pudding-mixandum…

A Law Report (Daniel v. Dishclout)reference 3

What appears to be significant in the larger sense of the inquiry into dog idioms is the suggestion that those who speak dog Latin are implicitly inferior.

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figure 2  

Contributors to TV Tropes have created an entry for Canis Latinicus, or Dog Latin. They note that when writers for television shows or films need convincing language for imaginary scientific fields or magical incantations they tend to turn to Latin: It's exotic-sounding, it has a word for almost everything, and it's fairly well known.reference 4 But when the writers run out of real Latin they just make it up. It's easy: take an English word—any will do—drop any vowels from the end, and add -us, -icus, or ium. If you're naming a town, use the extension -opolis (although the extension is actually Greek, not Latin. Real dog latin would have you using the extension -ium or -ia). Ta-daa! Instant Latin!reference 5 As you can see, the term need not even be latinate to be considered dog latin.

A contrary argument could be made this this is not true dog latin in the tradition of classical sounding nonsense such as Stevens produced. Classicists tend to see any Latin terms that have emerged since the Renaissance as “neo-latin.” Scientists and literary critics tend to be the most likely to generate such latin neologisms in order to add gravitas to their theories.



1. Whitney, William Dwight, and Benjamin E. Smith. 1914. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia; with a New Atlas of the World. Century Co. Accessed from

2. Benét, William Rose, ed. 1948. The Reader's Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia of World Literature and the Arts. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 306


3. Ibid.




4. TV Tropes contributors. 2009. Canis Latinicus. Accessed Jun 23 2009 from http:// pmwiki/ pmwiki.php/ Main/ CanisLatinicus?action= diff&source=n&minor=n.

5. Ibid.

6. American Association for Neo-Latin Studies. 2009. About The AANLS. York University. Accessed Jun 28 2009 from http:// aanls/ index.html.


About the illustration: Figure 1. The intent of the illustration is to show humans of the Roman Empire, presumably unable to comprehend a man uttering the sound “bar-bar.” As Patricia Palmer puts it in her treatise, Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland, the concept of barbarism is “etymologically rooted in barbaros, the babbling outsider unable to speak Greek...” Somewhere I had heard that the Greeks, on encountering a foreign language, dismissed it as crude sounds, which they summarized as “bar-bar.” This last little tidbit is one I cannot confirm. However, it is notable that Palmer argues that “until race emerged, in the seventeenth century, as the standard measurement of difference, religion and language were its markers.”reference 7 That barbarous speech might be termed “dog Latin” once again suggests that dogs stand in for the Other. Illustration composed by the author.

Figure 2 is more whimsical, providing an example of neo Latin in service of a narrative. The image is a modified version of the image of a Mad Scientist on Giant Bomb. It is used under the Creative Commons' Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License

7. Palmer, Patricia. 2001. Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland: English Renaissance Literature and Elizabethan Imperial Expansion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



see also: doggerel; Dog as Self and Other Last updated: June 28, 2009
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