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jump through hoops. Made to go through a rigorous test, or, alternatively, made to go through unnecessary preliminaries or make-work.

I had not thought of this as a dog reference until I came across this tidbit in M.A. Underwood Hobbs' web site Pure Doggerel: “This expression has it's origin in the Medieval custom of crippling all dogs living within a certain range of the King's forests to prevent them from being used for poaching. Only dogs small enough to jump through a hoop of a set dimension were allowed to remain unharmed.”reference 1 However, I have been unable to confirm this story.


1. Hobbs, M.A. Underwood. 1999. Pure Doggerel. White Star Farm,. Accessed Oct 21 2001 from http:// meanwhilebackatthefarm .com/ doghouse/ puredoggerel.htm .

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figure 2
Our good friend, Christine Ammer, offers a much more benign origin. She says that it is simply a reference to circus animals jumping through hoops, perhaps at a dog and pony show.reference 2 Indeed, a search of suggests that various creatures, from large cats to human beings, jumped through hoops as a form of entertainment from the end of the 19th century up until World War II.
2. Ammer, Christine. 1997. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
The earliest non-literal uses I found were implied similes. In William Black's 1877 serialized novel, Madcap Violet, he offers this description of one of his characters: “Was this man mad, that he...should play pranks with the whole created order of things, tossing about solar systems as if they were no more than juggler's balls and making universal systems of philosophy jump through hoops as if he were a lion-tamer in a den?”reference 3 However, metaphorical uses appearing in the early part of the 20th century were specifically references to dogs. In an article about President Taft's handling of Congress, the Mansfield News said: “...he had them so tame that they would jump through hoops or lie down and roll over.”reference 4 A 1911 Washington Post article on the relations between the sexes describes a woman's behavior in this way: “Instead of being restful and soothing she was irritating, wanted him to play dead, jump through hoops, and do all those other stunts that a man, to please a woman, will do.”reference 5 In both of these latter uses, the dynamic of dominance and submission is a vital part of the metaphor.

3. Black, William. 1879. Madcap Violet. Fort Wayne Sentinal, Nov 22, n.p. Accessed Mar 1 2006 from http:// Viewer.aspx? img= Rvj45z7SpqiKID/ 6NLMW2hoHJ sFhywvLnme4 eooz479ZG AhRAKpOXUIF +CsZYmrz.

4. Closing Days of Congress. 1910. The Mansfield News. Jun 25. Accessed Apr 17 2008 Accessed from http:// Viewer.aspx?i mg= ssVO2f5ZuruKID/ 6NLMW2lK vne0oAa5 BO5uP0JmCNb 9txGge6rirQEIF +CsZYmrz.

5. The Clay Feet of Our Worshiped [Sic] God of Luck. 1911. Washington Post. Jul 23. Accessed Apr 17 2008 Accessed from http:// Viewer.aspx?img= wSCs6S0EhDCKID/ 6NLMW2sfYx4 CbBnkLLH Yee6i XJ 6UjbtL4V7NJxQ ==.
About the illustrations: Figure 1 shows a young boy, Louis Pasteur, as it turns out, coaxing a dog to jump through a hoop.reference 6 No doubt his intentions were noble. Figure 2 is just your typical dog, clowning around. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation. 6. Malkus, Alida, and Jo Spier, illus. 1952. The Story of Louis Pasteur. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
see also: dog and pony show Last updated: July 5, 2008
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