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a simple geneaological chart with a irish hound and a question mark as the parents of Disney's Pluto
figure 1  


pedigree. Ancestral lineage, professional preparation, life history, criminal record, or provenance, especially in tabular form.

This is not, strictly speaking, a dog reference. Pedigrees for humans probably precede those for dogs and other animals. In the U.S. however, where we pretend to have social mobility, it is presumed that social status is based on merit rather than ancestry. We tend to think of pedigrees as referring to dogs, horses, or (if we are from farming communities) cattle, etc. As an academic, I have referred to the schools where I studied as “my pedigree.”

To not have a pedigree in the dog world typically means that the dog is not purebred, though a mongrel might also have a lineage as well-charted as any full-fledged member of a particular breed. As discussed in the entry on mongrel, to be described as lacking a pedigree casts one as having reduced status. The imprimatur that pedigree provides is underlined in an analogy provided by Erin McKean, editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary in an interview on National Public Radio. She said, “You don’t have to be pedigreed to be a dog and you don’t have to be in the dictionary to be a real word.”reference 1 Real or not, dictionaries and pedigrees represent society’s values; dogs without pedigrees and words without dictionary entries may be as real any other, but they are clearly less valued.



1. Montagne, Renee and E. McKean. 2005. Googling for New Words. In Morning Edition. New York: National Public Radio. April 18.

About the illustration: Pedigrees showing ancestry usually appear in this form, with females indicated by the circle and males by the square. Sometimes pedigrees are incomplete, though, if paternity is uncertain. Collaged by the author.
see also: purebred; pick of the litter
cf: mongrel, pyedog
Last updated: March 27, 2008
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