Put on the Dog: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 31, 2023

The expression "put on the dog" is a somewhat old-fashioned, informal phrase used to describe someone showing off or being overly flashy, especially regarding dress and appearance. It implies that a person is making an extravagant effort to impress others, often by dressing in a very stylish or showy manner. This phrase can be used in various social situations, from personal gatherings to formal events.

In short:

  • It describes showing off or being flashy, especially in appearance.
  • It is often used to suggest someone is trying hard to impress others.

What Does "Put on the Dog" Mean?

When someone "puts on the dog," they're going out of their way to appear stylish, elegant, or wealthy, usually to impress others. This might be someone who dresses in fancy clothes for a simple occasion or behaves in a manner that's more sophisticated or exaggerated than usual. For instance, wearing a tuxedo or an evening gown to a casual dinner party could be seen as putting on the dog.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning:

  • It's about making a showy or extravagant effort in appearance or behavior.
  • The phrase describes someone who wants to be seen as elegant or wealthy.
  • It can be used in a playful, teasing manner or more critically.
  • While it can be used affectionately, it often hints at excess or pretentiousness.
  • Similar expressions include "dressing to the nines," "showing off," and "making a splash.

Where Does "Put on the Dog" Come From?

The phrase “put on the dog” may be linked to nobility and aristocracy, as wealthier ladies often kept small dogs as pets and allowed them to sit on their laps (so-called “lapdogs”). The dog symbolized wealth, and it was the much-beloved pet of the upper class, highly wealthy. The term originated in America around the Civil War, but its ultimate origin has been lost. At least one writer believes it came from the custom of the newly wealthy to display their prosperity by keeping extravagantly pampered pets.

10 Examples of "Put on the Dog" in Sentences

To help you understand how this phrase is used, here are some examples from different situations:

  • He decided to put on the dog for the fancy dinner party by wearing his most expensive suit.
  • With all due respect, it often feels pretentious than genuine when they try to put on the dog at these events.
  • All the celebrities put on the dog at the award ceremony with their designer outfits.
  • When asked what he's been up to, he replied, "Nothing much, just planning to put on the dog for the upcoming gala."
  • For their anniversary, they put on the dog and booked the most luxurious restaurant in town.
  • When hosting parties, she loves to put on the dog with elaborate decorations and gourmet food.
  • Every Christmas, the Jones family puts on the dog with their extravagant light display.
  • He put on the dog for the job interview, wearing a brand-new designer suit.
  • You should watch your mouth when you accuse them of trying to put on the dog; they might just be enjoying the finer things in life.
  • Their attempt to put on the dog with that extravagant purchase turned out to be a white elephant, causing more trouble than it was worth.

Examples of "Put on the Dog" in Pop Culture

Though somewhat old-fashioned, this phrase still appears in pop culture, typically depicting characters trying to impress or show off.

Let's look at some examples:

  • In "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, a character says, "He wasn't puttin' on no dog." This classic novel depicts the struggles of a family during the Great Depression as they travel from Oklahoma to California.
  • Samantha Murray's song "Put on the Dog" explores themes of self-expression and identity. The song is part of her 2023 music collection.
  • "Sweet Home Alabama" (2002) includes the line: "If I'd known company was coming, I'd have put on the dog." This romantic comedy stars Reese Witherspoon, who plays a young woman confronted with her Southern roots.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Put on the Dog"

Here are some alternative phrases that express the same idea:

  • Dress to the nines
  • Show off
  • Flash around
  • Make a splash
  • Flaunt wealth
  • Dress extravagantly
  • Display opulence
  • Act high and mighty
  • Strut one's stuff
  • Exude elegance

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Put on the Dog":

  • What does "put on the dog" mean?

"Put on the dog" means to make a showy or extravagant effort, especially in terms of dress and appearance, to impress others.

  • How can I use "put on the dog" in a sentence?

You can use it to describe someone who is dressing up or behaving in an extravagant way. For example: "He really put on the dog for the wedding, wearing a designer suit and a flashy watch.

  • Is "put on the dog" used in a positive or negative way?

It can be used both ways, but often it has a slightly negative or teasing connotation, suggesting excess or pretentiousness.

  • Where did the phrase "put on the dog" originate?

The phrase likely originated in America in the late 19th century and might be related to the idea of putting on airs or acting more affluent than one is.

  • Is "put on the dog" still commonly used today?

It's less common now and considered somewhat old-fashioned, but it's still understood in many English-speaking areas.

  • Can "put on the dog" be used in formal writing?

It's generally used in informal contexts due to its idiomatic and somewhat old-fashioned nature.

  • Are there any similar phrases to "put on the dog"?

Similar phrases include "dress to the nines," "show off," and "flash around."

  • Can "put on the dog" refer to behavior, or is it just about appearance?

While it often refers to appearance, it can also apply to behavior that is showy or meant to impress.

  • Is "put on the dog" used in other languages?

As an English idiom, it's specific to English, but other languages may have their own equivalent expressions.

  • How do you respond to someone who is "putting on the dog"?

Responses can vary from admiration to gentle teasing, depending on the context and the relationship with the person.

Final Thoughts About "Put on the Dog"

The idiom "put on the dog" is a colorful expression in English used to describe showy or extravagant behavior, especially for the sake of impression. While its usage has declined, making it a bit old-fashioned, it remains a part of the language, capturing a particular social display.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It describes showy, extravagant efforts to impress, especially in appearance.
  • The phrase is often used playfully or teasingly.
  • It's considered an informal and somewhat old-fashioned expression.
  • Similar phrases are used to express the same idea of showiness or flashiness.

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