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figure 1


like a dog with a bone. 1. Committed, tenacious, stubborn, determined, single-minded. Grabbing hold of something and not letting go.

This is one of the dog characteristics that can go either way, or both ways: asset, liability, or both. In a letter to the editor of the Chillicothe [Ohio] Gazette, Jennifer McDonald describes Hillary Clinton as being “like a dog with a bone...When she believes in something or someone...she just won't let go.”reference 1 Ms. McDonald, clearly a supporter of Senator Clinton's failed run for the presidency, intends to say that her candidate is tenacious, a fighter. Critics might agree that the simile applies to Clinton and yet offer different interpretations, e.g., that she is stubborn, doesn't play well with others, cannot give up even on lost causes, or is just plain greedy.

These more negative readings of the phrase are manifested in numerous instances. Naturalist William Henry Hudson (someone who might be presumed to speak with some authority on animal behavior) uses the simile in a memoir of his early life: “Despite my determination to put the question off, my mind, or sub-conscious mind, like a dog with a bone which it refuses to drop in defiance of its master's command, went on revolving it.”reference 2 (emphasis added)

So when Queen sings, “You gotta hold on me baby, like a dog with a bone / Don't let go”reference 2 the simile literally means hold tightly. Figuratively this might seem to be a plea for love and commitment; if you listen to the full lyrics, this interpretation may instead seem ironic.

It may be useful to consider this simile in relationship with the phrase “dog in the manger.” That dog selfishly hoards something for which he has no need.

Or perhaps I am being to cynical. The National School Boards Association posts an article from Leadership Journal on its web site offering this unequivocal statement: “The person who grabs hold of the problem and won't let go, like a dog with a bone, has leadership potential. This quality is critical in leaders, for there will be times when nothing but one's iron will says, 'Keep going.''reference 4

1. McDonald, Jennifer. 2008. Clinton Cares About the American People. Chillicothe Gazette, Feb 29. Accessed Apr 18 2008 from http:// apps/ pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/ 20080229/ OPINION/802290321/ 1014.




2. Hudson, W. H. 1918. Far Away and Long Ago; a History of My Early Life. New York: E.P. Dutton & co.

3. Queen. 1988. Dog with a Bone. Acccessed Mar 13, 2008 from http:// www. Songs/ unreleasedqueen.htm #dogwith.

4. Smith, Fred. 1996. Leadership Qualities: Ten Ways to Identify a Promising Prson. Leadership Journal 17 (4):30. Accessed Mar 13 2008 from http:// sbot/ toolkit/ LeadQual.html

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figure 2

2. Greedy.

However protective one is of what one has, it seems there is always more to have. Aesop's fable, “The Dog and the Bone” (sometimes called “The Story of the Dog and his Shadow”), describes a dog who was carrying a bone over a bridge. As it crossed, the dog saw its own reflection—and the reflection of the bone!—in the water. Wanting this “other” dog's bone as well as its own, the dog opened its mouth to bark at this rival. In so doing, the dog dropped the bone into the river, where it was gone for good.reference 5 Don't be greedy, is the moral of this tale. Or perhaps, a dog is unable to distinguish its own reflection from that of another dog. Or maybe it's just that dogs, and those who act like dogs, can be selfish and greedy.

5. Aesop and Milo Winter. 1947. The Aesop for Children. New York: Checkerboard Press.



About the illustrations: Figure 1 is by Hui Wen and is used under Creative Commons license 2.5.

Figure 2 is by Milo Winter, painted for the story of the dog and the bone. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

see also: dogged; bone of contention; bone to pick; throw one a bone
cf: dog in the manger
Last updated: July 5, 2008
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