Monday, January 28, 2019

Black dog means what?

It’s known far and wide that the Royal Mum is a huge reader, a word nerd, and a grammar geek.  I think I’ve covered all the bases.  One of her word nerd pleasures is receiving emails from Word a Day—and I get to learn at her feet, so to speak.

One week’s theme was words derived from animals, so I was expecting some fun.  Here’s how Anu Garg, who manages this informative website, introduced the week:
Earthworms, dogs, monkeys, and humans. We are all cousins in the great journey of evolution … Our language shows our close relationship with our evolutionary mates, the non-human animals, in a vocabulary that’s filled with words derived from animals. Some of these words are obvious, others not. A constable is, literally speaking, a count of the stable …This week we’ll see five terms that have animals peeking from them. We’ll meet dog, fly, calf, pig, and bird.

Imagine how excited I was when Mum read the first word—black dog.  Guess that’s more than one word, but no matter.  I couldn’t wait to hear what wonderful meaning those two words had taken on. Mais non,  I did not find the meaning to be wonderful.  Black dog means—wait for it—depression.  Depression?  Whoever determined that was the meaning?

Originally, black dog meant exactly what it says, a black dog.  Why couldn’t the word nerd powers that be leave well enough alone?  Next, the phrase was used to refer to a counterfeit coin, but it was Samuel Johnson in the 1700s who used it to mean depression. Did this guy ask any dogs what they thought?  I don’t think so. Here’s what he had to say: “When I rise my breakfast is solitary, the black dog waits to share it, from breakfast to dinner he continues barking.”

Mum tells me he wrote “A Dictionary of the English Language,” which I guess makes him some kind of authority. Worse yet, Winston Churchill, whom Mum and Dad both revere, also used black dog to describe his depression.  I wonder whether this characterization has anything to do with black dogs being less likely to be adopted?  Do people think we’re less lovable? Horrors.

In this age where we hear so much about diversity and inclusion among humans, who’s looking out for us dogs? Isn’t this a heinous affront to black dogs everywhere?   I believe all black dogs should rise up in protest of this slander.

I can see it now, a march on the American Kennel Club or, better yet, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (World Canine Organization for those of you who don’t speak French like moi). This organization is the largest international federation of kennel clubs. I have a vision of leading a congregation of New Foundlands, Giant Schnauzers, Bouviers des Flandres, Flat-Coated Retrievers and more to the Federation’s headquarters in Belgium. With the largest breeds out front, we should get plenty of attention and soon garner the respect we are due.

To ensure all interested dogs get to participate, we welcome any black or mostly black dogs to join our protest group. I may be a Royal Dog, but I am not a purebred, so I’m all about inclusion. Are you with me?  Please have your pet parent contact the Royal Mum to sign up. To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, with enough of us involved, “… friends, they may think it's a movement.”

Good news for dog lovers!  Lord Banjo’s columns will be included in his new book coming out in 2019.  He welcomes fan mail at

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Lord Banjo, Puddin', and I take turns writing these blogs, and we'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.