Idiom Watch

Some people say “[I] have no dog in this hunt” (Google = 10.4K), and others “[I] have no dog in this fight” (Google = 116K). Now, competent readers recognize both expressions as colorful ways of disclaiming interest, so it would be mistaken to ask “which is right?” I wonder, though, whether one arose out of the other, or each developed more or less simultaneously/autonomously.
 
Given the tradition of hunting with packs of dogs in England, I’d suspect (without direct evidence) that “hunt” came first: “I can speculate disinterestedly about which dog will turn up a pheasant first, because I don’t have a dog in the contest.” Among people less accustomed to hunting with packs of dogs, the more intelligible version would transmute the trope to the practice of dog fighting. But that’s 100% speculation. If there were a convenient way to send up a flare to Language Log in general, rather than picking on one of the Loggers, I’d refer it to them — but for now, I’ll just leave my ruminations here.

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9 Responses to Idiom Watch

  1. Margaret says:

    Is this the same idea as, “I’m not willing to die in this trench”?

  2. AKMA says:

    I don’t think so — the “dog” expression means “I’m not involved,” while the “trench” expression means something more like “I may be an interested party, but I don’t take this point to matter enough to make a big fuss over it.”

  3. I also think it depends on if you are friend of Michael Vick… I don’t think he was doing a lot of hunting with his dogs…

    More seriously, I wonder if it is a regional phrase. I have head the dog fight version for years and I have never heard of “not having a dog in this hunt” until today.

  4. dave rogers says:

    The expression “dog in this hunt” is a mistaken confabulation of “that dog won’t hunt” and “dog in this fight.”

    “That dog won’t hunt,” is an expression of doubt or disbelief – something will not work.

  5. dave rogers says:

    …er, I meant, “conflation,” in this most recent confabluation…

  6. AKMA says:

    That’s it! Thanks, Dave — something about this was bothering me, and the choice of these alternatives didn’t feel right. I tried to spot the latecomer version, but the real issue was the colloquial assimilation of the “won’t hunt” phrase into the “dog in it” phrase. Whew! That feels much better.

  7. Christopher Hays says:

    I occasionally say, “I don’t have a horse in this race,” but I have no idea where I got that.

    I, too, had never heard the “dog in this hunt” version.

  8. Holly says:

    I’m wondering if it is a regionalism? I’m not convinced it is a conflation. I always assumed that “no dog in this hunt” was talking about coon dogs (which also hunt in packs.)

  9. Holly says:

    Here’s an explanation that offers an explanation better than mine:
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_this_mean_Have_a_dog_in_this_hunt

    (Sorry, I can’t seem to make a hyperlink.)

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