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Victorian illustration of a woman with a small dog in her lap. The dog is wearing a pink ribbon.
figure 1  


lap dog. One eager to take care of someone else's needs—either stated or anticipated—especially in order to maintain a position of privilege or status.

The metaphor refers to small dogs whose lives are mostly lived in the laps of their owners, such as Bruiser, Reese Witherspoon's canine co-star in the film Legally Blonde. While not always political dogs, lap dogs often are, as in Mike Barnicle's description of political appointees from academia, “a bunch of intellectual lap dogs for anybody who holds a big job in government.”reference 1

An interesting—if unverified and unlikely—citation gives a chilling tale of the origin of this term: “King Boleslaus II of Poland started it all during a war with Russia in the 11th Century. Concerned about increasing incidence of infidelity on the home front, and its impact on troop morale, he legislated that children born of such trysts be taken to the woods to die and the offending women be obligated to nurse puppies in their stead. They were also required to take these dogs wherever they went, resulting in their appearing publicly with them on their lap [sic]. The practice, however, proved so commonplace and ultimately so popular that it also became fashionable—giving birth the concept of lap dog.”reference 2 Given that dogs have been with humans for over 10,000 years, it seems unlikely that the first time dogs emerged as constant lap companions or fashion accessories was a mere millennium ago.

1. Barnicle, Mike. 1986. Of Meese and Harvard Men. Boston Globe, Mar 28, 15.

2. Doulton, Melanie. 1999. Putting On ... The Lap Dog. M. Doulton, ed. A Word With You. Accessed Nov 15 2002 from http:// www.wordwithyou .com/ archives/ Archive_a-z.htm.

About the illustration:A Victorian spot illustration of a woman with a pampered pet in her lap. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.
see also: dogcessory
poodle; puppy dog
Last updated: July 5, 2008
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