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sometimes you're the dog; sometimes you're the hydrant. The first shall be last and the last shall be first; one day you might be on top of the world, the next you might be treated badly.

A colleague of mine suggested this one. I have found a number of instances where it has been used, but none that included any attribution other than anonymous. Nor have I found anyone who has given a specific interpretation, seeming to presume that the meaning is self-evident. Perhaps, but, just for the sake of fun, let's practice a bit of hermeneutics.reference 1 What do we know about dogs and hydrants? The relationship is cliché: dogs mark territory with their urine and, for some reason, people have it in their minds that fire hydrants are magnets for this behavior. Working from here, I might suggest that the implication is that sometimes you are the territory being claimed, and sometimes you are the claimant. However, this is probably much too abstract. Since the phrase is sometimes accompanied by with the additional admonition, “Hope you're the dog!”, let's accept the safer guess—the phrase refers to urination on something. In that case, its parallel to the refrain in Mark Knopfler's song, “The Bug:”

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you're just a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes your gonna lose it allreference 2

So, sometimes you are going to be peed on and sometimes you going to pee on somebody. Frankly, neither sounds especially attractive to me.



1. As my colleague Steven Goodman once told my students when he visited a class, hermeneutics is the process of reaching towards the meaning of a text. It is important to understand that this does not arrive at a knowing of meaning or even a grasping of meaning. Think of the process as one half of Xeno's paradox. When the stone is thrown at a target, it must first go half the distance and then it must go half of the distance remaining and then half... and so on. Xeno wondered how the stone ever reached the target. In the case of hermeneutics, it never does, though perhaps you can get closer and closer.


2. Carpenter, Mary-Chapin. 1992. The Bug, written by M. Knopfler. In Come on, Come on. Columbia Records.

About the illustration: Digitally collaged by the author. Original images © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.
see also: fire hydrant
every dog has its day; every day has its dog
Last updated: March 20, 2008
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