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What Does It Mean to Call Someone a "Dirty Dog"?

Jim B.
Updated May 23, 2024
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If someone is called a "dirty dog," the person speaking is using an English idiom insinuating that the person being described cannot be trusted. This phrase is usually prefaced by some sort of description of the ways in which the person in question has practiced unscrupulous behavior. There is also an alternative usage of this phrase which allows it to be used as a sort of salute to someone who is particularly crafty and sly. The phrase "dirty dog" was first used in the early part of the 20th century and gains its expressiveness from the idea of comparing a person to a filthy canine.

Idioms are colorful expressions that prevent speech patterns from becoming too predictable or mundane. These idioms, which are generally short phrases whose meanings are far different than the literal definitions of the words within them, can add color and expressiveness to speech. Many of these idioms come courtesy of the animal kingdom, since animals have distinct and colorful behavioral patterns. One of the most enduring animal idioms is used every time someone calls someone else a "dirty dog."

In most instances, this idiomatic expression takes on a negative meaning. It implies that the person described in this manner has done something underhanded or has managed to manipulate a situation to his or advantage by somewhat shady means. As a result, the speaker who uses this phrase is letting the person know that the conniving and scheming have not gone unnoticed. For example, someone might say, "That dirty dog managed to sneak behind my back to the boss and lie about where I was on my day off."

There are certain occasions when the phrase can signal the speaker's praise of the person who merits the phrase. This usually occurs when the speaker has a bit of admiration for the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the person he or she is describing. In this context, it is often used as a way to praise someone's unlikely or unexpected romantic conquest. As an example, a person might say, "You dirty dog; I can't believe you got a date with that beautiful woman."

The earliest printed version of this phrase can be traced back to the 1920s. It's hard to say how it evolved into a compliment in some situations, but it's easy to see how it came to be used as a putdown. After all, an actual dirty dog brings to mind all kinds of unsavory images and smells, so anyone described in this manner must be doing something sneaky.

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Jim B.
By Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own successful blog. His passion led to a popular book series, which has gained the attention of fans worldwide. With a background in journalism, Beviglia brings his love for storytelling to his writing career where he engages readers with his unique insights.
Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Jun 19, 2012

I have a friend that is just terrible to girls. He says mean things, does mean tings and just has a total lack of respect. I have heard him called a dirty dog but I think that is letting him off the hooks. This is not something that is cute and funny, this is a really terrible thing that he does and he is going to have shallow, unsatisfying relationships with women his whole life because of it.

There is an unfortunate notion that is very old fashioned but persistent in our culture that men are going to be kind of dirty and unrestrained and it was just the burden of women to put up with our indiscretions. Why do men get a pass like this? Why are we not held to a higher standard?

By summing — On Jun 18, 2012

My grandfather is probably what you would describe as a dirty dog. He loves a glass of good scotch, a dirty joke and a waitress half his age roaming around the bar. He has embarrassed me on more than a few occasions but he is pretty good natured about the whole thing. He has a special knack for doing things that would get other men slapped and somehow not getting into any trouble at all. I think that most dirty dogs have a little charm in them too.

Jim B.
Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own...
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