See a man about a dog

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To see a man about a dog or horse is an English idiom, usually used as a way to say one needs to apologise for one's imminent departure or absence—generally to euphemistically 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]


  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." 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.