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Man bites dog

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The phrase man bites dog is a shortened version of an aphorism in journalism that describes how an unusual, infrequent event (such as a man biting a dog) is more likely to be reported as news than an ordinary, everyday occurrence with similar consequences, such as a dog biting a man.

The phenomenon is also described in the journalistic saying, "You never read about a plane that did not crash."[1] It can be expressed mathematically; a basic principle of information theory is that reports of unusual events provide more information than those for more routine outcomes.


The phrase was coined by Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe (1865–1922), a British newspaper magnate, but is also attributed to New York Sun editor John B. Bogart (1848–1921): "When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news."[2][3] The quote is also attributed to Charles Anderson Dana (1819–1897).[4][5]

The result is that rarer events more often appear as news stories, while more common events appear less often, thus distorting the perceptions of news consumers of what constitutes normal rates of occurrence.


To some extent, a focus on unusual occurrences is unavoidable in journalism, as events that proceed as expected are simply not "newsworthy".

The reasoning errors caused by this phenomenon are also associated with the availability heuristic, which is the mental shortcut that relies on the immediate examples that come to mind when evaluating a specific topic. For example, because airplane crashes are frequently reported, they are easy to call to mind. This leads to people having inaccurate perceptions of how dangerous air travel is.[6]

Some consider "man bites dog" stories about unusual events a sign of yellow journalism, and in the internet era, headlines about them may be phrased as click bait.[7][better source needed]

Mathematical analysis[edit]

A basic principle of the information theory, which studies the mathematical theory of communication, is that reports of unusual events provide more information than those for more routine outcomes. The amount of information conveyed by a message about an event can be expressed in terms of its "surprisal", with surprisal defined as for an event of probability .[8][9][10] Measured this way, an event that is nearly certain to happen ( very close to one) carries almost no information, while an extremely rare event ( very close to zero) provides a very large amount of information.

Examples of literal use in journalism[edit]

In 2000, the Santa Cruz Sentinel ran a story titled "Man bites dog" about a San Francisco man who bit his own dog.[11]

Reuters ran a story, "It's News! Man Bites Dog", about a man biting a dog[12] in December 2007.

A 2008 story of a boy biting a dog in Brazil had news outlets quoting the phrase.[13]

In 2010, NBC Connecticut ran a story about a man who bit a police dog, prefacing it with, "It's often said, if a dog bites a man it's not news, but if a man bites a dog, you've got a story. Well, here is that story."[14]

On May 14, 2012, the Medway Messenger, a British local newspaper, ran a front page story headlined "MAN BITES DOG" about a man who survived an attack from a Staffordshire bull terrier by biting the dog back.[15]

On September 27, 2012, the Toronto Star, a Canadian newspaper, ran the story headlined "Nearly Naked Man Bites Dog", about a man that is alleged to have bitten a dog in Pembroke, Ontario.[16]

On December 2, 2012, Sydney Morning Herald reported about a man that bit a dog, headlining it 'Man bites Dog, goes to hospital'.[17]

On May 5, 2013, "Nine News", an Australian news outlet, ran a story headlined "Man bites dog to save wife" about a man who bit a Labrador on the nose, after it attacked his wife and bit off her nose.[18]

On March 12, 2014, Rosbalt, a Russian news agency, reported that a man in Lipetsk had burnt a bed in his apartment, run around the city in his underwear, and, finally, "bit a fighting breed dog" following an hours-long online debate about the situation in Ukraine.[19]

In April 2014, CNN reported a mother bit a pit bull attacking her daughter.[20]

On June 14, 2014, the South Wales Argus ran a front page teaser headlined "Man Bites Dog" about a man who has been accused of assaulting his partner and her pet dog. The Online version of this story was later amended to "Man bites dog and escapes jail".[21]

On September 1, 2014, the Coventry Telegraph and the Daily Mirror ran an article about a man who had bitten a dog after it attacked his pet.[22][23]

On December 17, 2014, the Cambridge News ran an article with a headline starting: "Man bites dog then dies".[24]

On November 4, 2015, the Washington Post ran an article with the title "Man bites dog. No, really."[25]

On January 25, 2018, The Hindu reported that a man bit a police dog in Houston, Texas, while trying to evade arrest.[26]

On April 10, 2018, the Daily Telegraph ran such an article about a man biting a dog to defend his own dog.[27]

On May 4, 2018, the Salt Lake Tribune ran an article about a man biting a police dog while being taken into custody.[28]

On July 8, 2019, the Daily Camera ran an article about a man biting a dog in a supermarket.[29]

On April 22, 2022, the Associated Press ran an article about a man who bit a police dog while officers tried to take him into custody. [30]

Dog shoots man[edit]

There have also been a number of "dog shoots man" news stories.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37]

As an example of a related phrase, a story titled "Deer Shoots Hunter" appeared in a 1947 issue of the Pittsburgh Press, mentioning a hunter that was shot by his own gun due to a reflex kick by the deer he had killed.[38] And in 2005, in Michigan, there was a case of "cat shoots man".[39]

Man bites snake[edit]

On April 12, 2009, Kenyan farm worker Ben Nyaumbe was attacked by a large python. During his struggle to escape from the snake's coils, he bit its tail. He was rescued after it eventually relaxed its grasp enough for him to get to his mobile phone.[40]


  1. ^ "There's news in planes that don't crash". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 14, 2006.
  2. ^ Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th edition, ed. Justin Kaplan (Boston, London, and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1992), p. 554.
  3. ^ Frank Luther Mott (1941) American Journalism. A History of Newspapers in the United States through 250 Years, 1690 to 1940
  4. ^ Recollections of the Civil War By Charles Anderson Dana, Charles E. Rankin pp. xvi, xix
  5. ^ (in Russian) Konstantin Dushenko, Great Dictionary of quotes and winged words (Большой словарь цитат и крылатых выражений). "Litres". 2017
  6. ^ Tversky, Amos; Kahneman, Daniel (September 1973). "Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability". Cognitive Psychology. 5 (2): 207–232. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(73)90033-9. ISSN 0010-0285.
  7. ^ (in Russian) Serov, V. Encyclopedic dictionary of flying words and phrases (Энциклопедический словарь крылатых слов и выражений). Bibliotekar.ru.
  8. ^ Ratner, Paul (January 21, 2017). "Study: Fast Talkers Convey the Same Amount of Information as Slow Talkers". Big Think.
  9. ^ Shroff, Gautam (February 1, 2014). "What makes Rupert Murdoch tick? The science behind media greed". Salon.
  10. ^ Rafi, Zad; Greenland, Sander (2020). "Semantic and cognitive tools to aid statistical science: replace confidence and significance by compatibility and surprise". BMC Medical Research Methodology. 20 (244): 244. doi:10.1186/s12874-020-01105-9. PMC 7528258. PMID 32998683.
  11. ^ "State Briefs" column of the Sunday, November 5, 2000 edition, page B-16
  12. ^ "It's news! Man bites rabid dog in southern India". Reuters. December 14, 2007.
  13. ^ "Boy Bites Dog In Brazil". Citytv. July 24, 2008. Archived from the original on October 3, 2012.
  14. ^ "Man Sinks Teeth Into Police Dog". NBCUniversal. October 8, 2010.
  15. ^ "Teen Joseph Ripley locked up after man bites dog in self-defence". Kent Online.
  16. ^ "Nearly naked man bites dog, witnesses say". The Star. Toronto.
  17. ^ "Man bites dog, goes to hospital". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  18. ^ "Man bites dog to save wife from vicious attack". Archived from the original on 2013-05-07. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
  19. ^ "Житель Липецка после споров о событиях на Украине покусал бойцовую собаку". Rosbalt. 29 June 2023.
  20. ^ "Mom bites pit bull as it attacks girl". CNN. April 24, 2014.
  21. ^ "Man bites dog and escapes jail". South Wales Argus. 14 June 2014.
  22. ^ Gilbert, Simon (1 September 2014). "People filmed as father and son fought off crazed dog with shears in Coventry street". Coventry Telegraph.
  23. ^ Aspinall, Adam (1 September 2014). "Man bites dog fending off vicious attack against own pet". Daily Mirror.
  24. ^ "Man bites dog then dies at One-Stop shop in Cambridge". 17 December 2014. Archived from the original on 19 December 2014.
  25. ^ "Man bites dog. No, really". The Washington Post.
  26. ^ "Man bites dog in US, arrested". The Hindu. January 25, 2018. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  27. ^ "Man bites dog: Parish council chairman bites out-of-control dog to defend his puppy". The Telegraph. 10 April 2018.
  28. ^ Harkins, Paighten (May 1, 2018). "Man bites police dog, Salt Lake City police say". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
  29. ^ "Police: Man bites dog in Boulder Whole Foods, pulls knife on officer". 8 July 2019.
  30. ^ "Police: Man bites, stabs K9 dog in California". AP NEWS. 2022-04-22. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  31. ^ "Dog Shoots Iowa Man During Hunt", BBC News, October 30, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  32. ^ Hough, Andrew (December 1, 2011). "Dog Shoots Man in Buttocks, U.S. Police Reveal", The Telegraph. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  33. ^ Newcomb, Alissa (December 12, 2011). "Sit, Stay, Aim, Fire. Dog Shoots Another Hunter", ABC News. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  34. ^ "No Hard Feelings After Dog Shoots Huntsman in France", BBC News, September 17, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  35. ^ Meisel, Jay (February 25, 2013). "Dog Shoots Man Accidentally, Police Say" Archived 2014-12-18 at the Wayback Machine, Highlands Today. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  36. ^ "Dog Shoots Man: Pet Owner Recovering After Freak Gun Accident", Fox News, December 19, 2014. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  37. ^ Buckley, Madeline (October 27, 2015). "Dog Named Trigger Shoots Indiana Hunter in Foot", Indianapolis Star. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  38. ^ "Deer Shoots Hunter", Pittsburgh Press, October 18, 1947, via Google News. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
  39. ^ "Cat Shoots Owner With 9mm Handgun". Fox News. Associated Press. March 10, 2005. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  40. ^ Nyassy, Daniel (April 14, 2009). "Man bites snake in hour-long battle to survive". Daily Nation. Retrieved March 23, 2020.