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The Canine in Conversation
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woman kissing feet
figure 1  


dogs (feet). Human feet.


foot diagram
figure 2  

I can't recall when I first heard a reference to feet as dogs, so perhaps it is from my childhood. It seems to me that feet are usually dogs when they are tired from a lot of walking. Yet, I don't get a sense of derogation in the term. There is a certain affection. Perhaps this is an instance where dogs' loyalty is manifest. Tired the feet may be, but they have served.

Tom Burns Haber throws us a bit of a curve, informing us that the journal American Speech noted upon sportswriter Tad Dorgan's death in 1929 that he originated the use of the term “dogs” for shoes.reference 1 Hence, a shoestring was referred to as a “dog leash” and a shoe salesman as a “shoe dog.” However authoritative these citations may be, I can find no contemporary usage in print.



1. Haber, Tom Burns. 1965. Canine Terms Applied to Human Beings and Human Events: Part II. American Speech 40 (4): 249.

woman holding foot
figure 3  


dogs are barking. One's feet are in pain.

I confess to wonderment about this one. My experience is that dogs bark to get attention or to express excitement. Pain is more likely to come out as whines or whimpers. Maybe it's when your feet are hurting because you have walked too long without paying attention to the price your feet are paying, hence the need for them to get your attention.

Once again Haber weighs in with a different meaning. He reports that Berry's and Van den Bark's American Thesaurus of Slang says that the phrase refers to “A stable secret that is known everywhere.”reference 2 Again, corroboration is scarce.

2. Ibid., 250.
About the illustrations: Figure 1 is from India's Love Lyrics, illustrated by Byam Shaw.reference 3

Figure 2 simply illustrates the bones of the foot. Figure 3 shows a woman holding her sore foot. All © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

3. Hope, Laurence. 1938. India's Love Lyrics. Deluxe ed. New York: Garden City Publishing Co.
see also: hushpuppies (shoes)
cf: bark like a dog
Last updated: July 5, 2008
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