Man's best friend (phrase)
"Man's best friend" is a common phrase about domestic dogs, referring to their millennia-long history of close relations, loyalty, and companionship with humans. The first recorded use of a related phrase is by Frederick the Great of Prussia. It was likely popularized by its use in a poem by Ogden Nash and has since become a common colloquialism.
Before the evolution of wolf into dog, it is posited that humans and wolves worked together hunting game. Wolves were the superior tracker but humans were the superior killer; thus wolves would lead humans to the prey and humans would leave some of the meat to the wolves. This working relationship eventually led to the evolution of dogs, though there is controversy as to the exact nature of that transition. Some say wolves evolved naturally into dogs, wherein the wolf that worked best with humans slowly began to assimilate and pass their domesticated genes down. Others say that humans took wolf cubs and raised them to be domesticated. Either way, humans and dogs formed a working relationship.
Previous to the 19th century, breeds of dogs (other than lap dogs) were largely functional. They served for activities such as hunting, watching, and guarding, language describing the dog often reflected these positions within society. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “In the oldest proverbs and phrases dogs are rarely depicted as faithful or as man’s best friend, but as vicious, ravening, or watchful.” Beginning in the 18th century, multiplying in the 19th and flourishing in the 20th century, language and attitudes towards dogs began to shift. Possibly, this societal shift can be attributed to discovery of the rabies vaccine in 1869.
Argos and Odysseus
In Homer's Odyssey (c. 8th century BC), upon Odysseus' return, his beloved dog Argos is the only individual to recognize him. Odysseus anonymously asks his old friend, "Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?" "This dog," answered Eumaeus, "belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him." Unable to greet his beloved dog, as this would betray who he really was, Odysseus passed by (but not without shedding a tear) and entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years. This story shows both companionship and neglect towards dogs amongst humans.
Yudhishthira refuses heaven to stay with his dog
At the end of the Mahabharata, the Pandavas, having given up all their belongings and ties, made their final journey of pilgrimage to the Himalayas accompanied by a dog. Yudhishthira was the only one to reach the mountain peak in his mortal body, because he was unblemished by sin or untruth. On reaching the top, Indra asked him to abandon the dog before entering the Heaven. But Yudhishthira refused to do so, citing the dog's unflinching loyalty as a reason. It turned out that the dog was his god-father, Dharma. The story symbolized that dharma follows you until the end.
King Fredrick of Prussia
Poet C.S. van Winkle
The earliest citation in the U.S. is traced to a poem printed in The New-York Literary Journal, Volume 4, 1821:
- The faithful dog – why should I strive
- To speak his merits, while they live
- In every breast, and man's best friend
- Does often at his heels attend.
Attorney George Graham Vest
In 1870 Warrensburg, Missouri, George Graham Vest represented a farmer suing for damages after his dog, Old Drum, had been shot and killed. Vest’s closing speech included this quote, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” In 1958, a statue of Old Drum was erected on the Johnson County Courthouse lawn containing a summation of Vest’s closing speech, “A man’s best friend is his dog.”
- CHIEN. — Il semble que la nature ait donné le chien à l'homme pour sa défense et pour son plaisir. C'est de tous les animaux le plus fidèle : c'est le meilleur ami que puisse avoir l'homme.
Translated, this reads:
- DOG. — It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful : it is the best friend man can have.
In 1941, Ogden Nash wrote "An Introduction to Dogs," beginning:
- The dog is man's best friend.
- He has a tail on one end.
- Up in front he has teeth.
- And four legs underneath.
- Derr, Mark. "How Dog's Evolved Into "Our Best Friend"". NPR. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Paton, Bernadette (2013). "The dog: man's best friend?(The use of man's best friend has usually been about dogs. They are hard working and reliable mammals)". www.oed.com. Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
- Laveaux, C.J. & King of Prussia, F (1789). The life of Frederick the Second, King of Prussia: To which are added observations, Authentic Documents, and a Variety of Anecdotes. J. Derbett London.
- Martin, Gary. "Man's Best Friend." The Phrase Finder. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2013. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/mans-best-friend.html>.
- Van Winkle, C.S., ed. Vol. 4. New York: C.S. van Winkle, 1821. 123. The New-York Literary Journal, and Belles-lettres Repository, Volume 4. University of Minnesota. Web. 13 July 2013. <https://books.google.com/books?id=raceAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA124&lpg=PA124&dq=faithful+dog>.
- Coren, Stanley (2009-10-21). ""A Man's Best Friend is his Dog": The Senator, the Dog, and the Trial". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2010-09-27.
- The Trial of Old Drum – New York Times Television Review – June 9, 2000
- Oeuvres complètes, tome 7ième, Paris 1817, p. 587 books.google