See a man about a dog

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To see a man about a dog (or see a man about a horse) is an English language colloquialism, usually used as a way to say one needs to apologize for one's imminent departure or absence – generally euphemistically to conceal one's true purpose, such as going to use the toilet or going to buy a drink.

The original, non-facetious meaning was probably to place or settle a bet on a racing dog.[1]

Historical usage[edit]

The earliest confirmed publication is the 1866 Dion Boucicault play Flying Scud[2] in which a character knowingly breezes past a difficult situation saying, "Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can't stop; I've got to see a man about a dog."[3][4] In a listing for a 1939 revival on the NBC Radio program America's Lost Plays, Time magazine observed that the phrase was the play's "claim to fame".[5]

During Prohibition in the United States, the phrase was most commonly used in relation to the consumption or purchase of alcoholic beverages.[4]

Usage in popular culture[edit]

In 2003, an Australian variant appeared in the Pixar film Finding Nemo when the dentist tells his patient that he has to see a man about a wallaby.[6]

In a scene of Californication Hank says to Karen, "I have to see a man about a horse", in order to avoid an unpleasant conversation.

During a camping tent scene in Pitch Perfect 2, Rebel Wilson says to the girls that she "has to see a man about a horse", as she excuses herself to go to the bathroom.

In the American TV Show Community, feminist character Britta says to Troy and Jeff that she is "going to see a woman about the female equivalent of a horse", before going to the restroom.

In horror TV Show From Dusk till Dawn: The Series, Seth says "I've gotta see a man about a horse".

In the British TV-series Mind Your Language an English teacher says he's going to see a man about a dog, but his foreign students don't understand him, and when he returns, they ask him whether he bought the dog.

In the books A Song of Ice and Fire, Nimble Dick Crabb says to Brienne of Tarth "I need t' see a man about a horse." It is the final line of the chapter in which it appears.


  1. ^ Ayto, John (2006). Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable. Ian Crofton. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. The fiction is that one is going to place a bet on a dog in a race. 
  2. ^ First performance Holborn Theatre Royal, London on October 6, 1866: The Times, 8 October, 1866; pg. 7; Issue 25623; col F. First U.S. production at Wallack’s Theatre on April 24, 1867: The New York Times 25 April, 1867
  3. ^ Doug Lennox (2003). Now You Know: The Book of Answers. Dundurn Press Ltd. ISBN 1-55002-575-9. "Seeing a man about a dog" comes from the 1866 play Flying Scud where a character says "Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can't stop; I've got to see a man about a dog" meaning he needs to leave the room -- and fast. 
  4. ^ a b Quinion, Michael. "See a Man About a Dog". Retrieved November 4, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Prestige Programs". Time magazine. July 17, 1939. Retrieved December 29, 2007. This week the Lost Plays series presents Flying Scud, one of six lost dramas by Dion Boucicault. Its claim to fame: the line "I've got to see a man about a dog." 
  6. ^ "Finding Nemo Script". 
Further reading
  • Ayto, John. Oxford Slang. 1998.
  • Farmer, J.S. and W.E. Henley. Slang and its Analogues. 1986.
  • Chapman, Robert L. Dictionary of American Slang. 1995.
  • Matthews, Mitford M. A Dictionary of Americanisms. 1951.
  • Spears, Richard A. Slang and Euphemism. 1981.
  • Spears, Richard A. The Slang and Jargon of Drugs and Drink. 1986.