Although I had tried to make The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers as comprehensive as possible, as I acknowledged in the preface, I knew that with new writer-artists appearing every day that it would be out of date as soon as it was published. Omissions were partially rectified with two large exhibitions and a catalogue and will continue to be filled in through this blog and the accompanying gallery of writer-art.
I felt more confident about You’re My Dawg, Dog: A Lexicon of Dog Terms for People, illustrated by the late great J.C. Suarès, now unamendably available on Amazon. After all, the number of writers who might mess around with charcoal, paint, or clay is open-ended; but there had to be a finite number of dog terms and I thought I’d pretty much nailed them all. Yet, no sooner had I turned in the manuscript than I chanced upon an excerpt from Robert Caro’s latest Lyndon Johnson volume with a description of the bitterly marginalized Vice President running around the White House complaining that the Kennedys were treating him “like a cut dog.” It got squeezed in moments before it was off to the printer.
A week later an English teacher to whom I’d mentioned the project dropped me an email to make sure I’d included Dogberry, the dumb constable in Much Ado About Nothing, and today any incompetent elected official (as in a Congress of Dogberrys), which of course I hadn’t. A friend in L.A. mentioned that in local usage “Mad Dog” is also a verb meaning to stare at someone in a hostile and challenging manner. Another friend’s son at University of Michigan told his dad to tell me about “Dog log” from a Phish song, meaning dog poop. This made me realize I’d omitted “Dog shit”, which has meanings beyond the literal and scatological. It is, of course, a descriptive for anything execrable—from a bad performance to the way one feels when ill—but is also a potent strain of sativa and the name of a cannabis testing lab. At the same time as I’d sussed out these last two, I ran across “Dogshit Food”, a story by Liu Heng, the title alluding to a Chinese idiom signifying a remote village.
Things quieted down for months and then on the next New Year’s Day I was half-listening to a friend bemoan the tedious party she’d been forced to attend the night before when she abruptly added that her companion insisted they stay “until the last dog was hung.” Had I really not heard this expression before, she wanted to know. Turns out the origin of this colorful phrase is a 1902 novel, The Blazed Trail, where it was employed to refer to loyal frontiersmen who wouldn’t rest until all the bad guys were lynched.
A week later another woman told me her boyfriend was doing a real “walk the dog” with her. It appears “walk the dog” not only signifies the shared exercise for canine relief, but to lead someone on in a relationship when aware there’s no future. Then I remembered it’s also a trick with a yo-yo in which the motion of a fast sleeper pulls the yo-yo along the ground. And I learned it’s also a dance.
A recent The New Yorker cited David W. Mauer’s book, Whiz Mob, a work covering the (complete?) technical argot of the light-fingered, in which he explains that “Kissing the dog” in pickpocket parlance, is the tradecraft error of letting a victim see your face.
Long persuaded that the world contains an endless supply of writer-artists, I’m now equally convinced that the world has a large cache of dog terms just waiting to be revealed. Thoroughly disabused of my complete listing illusion, I hope you will please send me yours.
Meanwhile, inspired by these colorful terms I will continue to post brief elaborations on those that touch on social and political issues. To get the idea, please check out Whose Dog Are You?