Fun Etymology Tuesday – Dog

It’s Tuesday! Let’s keep going with one of my favourite animals: dogs!

The word dog is a bit of an etymological mystery. From Old English docga, it’s origin is unknown and.. odd.

It is quite rare in Old English, appearing only in glossaries or in so-called onomastic evidence (that is, in the study of proper names such as Dogbury Hill, an ancient hill fort). That, the OED notes, might be because it was considered informal as there is a more commonly attested synonym: hound.

So, what’s so odd about this word?

Well, despite trying, no likely cognates have been found so far and the word’s phonological form is… problematic. You see, we have a stem-final geminate <g> (that is, a doubled <g> – looking at Middle English forms, the word is often spelt dogg). But the geminate <g> is not due to West Germanic consonant gemination*.

We do know that it eventually replaced Old English hund, which came from the PIE root *kwon- and is still in evidence in Swedish hund, by the 16th century.

We do find words that we might first interpret as cognates: French dogue, for example. Yet, upon further study, all of the so-far investigated words have eventually been shown to be a direct or indirect borrowing from English.

We do know, though, that English has a number of these words that appeared to form both a morphological and semantic group. Aside from dog, we also have hog, frog, pig, stag in this odd little group.

So, in the end, we really don’t know where this word comes from! But, to console you for not getting a straight answer, here’s a picture of Kyra, my own goofy hund! Enjoy your week!

Image may contain: dog, snow, outdoor and nature
Kyra, enjoying a walk in the snow!


*West Germanic gemination was a sound change that took place in all West Germanic languages around the 3rd or 4th century AD. While I’d love to tell you all about it, FunEty is not the place for such discussions. Check out Wikipedia’s article on it in the meantime!

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