Origins of the word “dog”

Narrated from: General Info

For many of us, dog is one of the most wonderful words in the English language.

But – what does it mean, and where does it come from? After all, most words in the modern language are derivatives of much older words.

“Dog” is one of the terms that have unclear origins. Many linguists fail to find any connection whatsoever with older words!

In fact, for a long time during the 14th - 15th centuries, our canine friends were called simply “hounds”, while the word “dog” was used to refer to a specific type of hound, a large group including the mastiff. Fortunately, in the 16th century the word dog had already been accepted as a generic term.

But still – where did it come from at all? Most linguists search the origin for the word “dog” in the Old Germanic language, which has spawned many modern English words. But still – in Germany the general term for dog is “hund”, and “hound” is a cognate of this word.

One needs to look deeper to find where “dog” comes from.

Today, the most popular theory is that “dog” is derived from another Old Germanic word – “docga” (dogga). This word was used to refer to a powerful breed of canine, and it is believed that its root is the word “dukkōn”, meaning “power, strength”. So, one reason to replace “hound” with “dog” would be that in the Middle Ages in England, powerful hunting and fighting dogs were the most common types of dogs – fluffy toy dogs were still not that popular!

Another possible theory suggests that the popularity of hounds led to people wanting to distinguish them from other canines, and thus the collective name for canine breeds became “dog”, while the hounds kept their designated name.

Still, the origins of the word “dog” remain rather misty, and it is still a mystery why the word became so popular – later on it would appear in the Netherlands (dog), Germany (Dogge), Sweden (dogg), France (dogue), Spain (dogo), and so on.

In fact, linguists all over the world were amazed when, while studying an extinct Australian Aboriginal language (Mbabaram), they found out that the word for dog was… dog! However, since few other similarities exist between the two languages, this was deemed a coincidence.

It is believed that there is no connection between the English “dog” and the Latin “canis”, which became the scientific name of the dog family.

In many other languages, the word for “dog” is based on the old root “kutt”, which was common in older Indo-European languages. In Hungary a dog would be called “kutya”, while in Bulgaria it can be transcribed as “kuche”, and so on…

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