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The Canine in Conversation
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an illustration of a dog lying on its back with the words play dead inscribed above
figure 1  


play dead. To offer no resistance or to submit. Sometimes phrased as “roll over and play dead.”

Dogs’ gestures of submission are dramatic and may in fact be one of the reasons why humans are so tolerant of them. Playing dead is not the same as “playing possum,” in which somnolence or death is feigned, even when poked or prodded. While the dog may lie still for a moment, the gesture is one of surrender and that is the meaning employed.

In her analysis of Congressional response to the Terri Schaivo case, Carol Marin makes the meaning vivid: “Washington, it's clear, is a place where Republicans run scared of the religious right and Democrats just play dead.”reference 1 Ms. Marin appears not to see the irony of using this phrase in regard to a situation in which the dispute hinged on whether Ms. Shaivo was or was not “brain dead.”

1. Marin, Carol. 2005. Congress Hits a Low in Schiavo Debacle. Chicago Sun Times, Mar 23. Accessed Mar 28 2005 from http:// output/ marin /cst-edt-carol231.html.

About the illustration: A dog playing dead, from the book Dog Ettiquette, sponsored by Ralston Purina, the big dog in the dog food industry.reference 2 © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

2. Ralston Purina Company. 1941. Dog Etiquette. St. Louis, Mo.: The Ralston Purina Co. 

see also: die like a dog; dead dog Last updated: July 28, 2008
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