Opinion: The O'Donovans were barking up the right tree with 'pull like a dog' line
Among the few good Irish memories from the Rio Olympics are those of Gary and Paul O'Donovan. Not only for winning the country's first rowing medal but also for their humorous, uninhibited interviews.
They were refreshing; in an era when elite sportspeople, who often look like dull automatons, fleshed by an amalgam of training regimes, diets etc, regularly roll out banalities.
The phrase that grabbed the attention was their simple strategy to "close your eyes and pull like a dog".
It's already made its way into the Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced online dictionary of slang words and phrases which says it "can be used when analogizing an exerted effort for attaining an insurmountable goal."
This got me thinking about the use of animals and particularly dogs for emphasis in our speech.
There are a few happy, positive sayings: 'as happy as a dog with two tails', 'as fit as a butcher's dog'. But the context is often pejorative or negative i.e. 'as sick as a dog', 'as crooked as a dog's hind leg', 'dog-tired', 'dog in the manger', 'dog's breakfast', 'go to the dogs', 'dog Latin'.
There are several expressions of 'sick as a …' from the 18th and 19th centuries but the 'dog' one dates back to 17th century.
This may be because dogs, like other animals of the genus Canis, are habitual regurgitators. This has to do with their hunting as a pack and returning to feed the young. As they have long been domesticated and will eat almost anything, they are the animal we are most likely to have seen vomiting.