Q From Melinda White: Can you explain the term dog in the manger? I have heard it used referring to a person and gather it is derogatory — not sure what it means exactly.
A Someone who has a dog-in-the-manger attitude has something of value that he cannot or will not use himself but which he won’t let anybody else have either.
An example might be an ex-husband who takes extreme steps to prevent his ex-wife from forming an attachment to another man, out of an unreasonable feeling that “if I can’t have her, nobody shall”. Other examples might be a driver who never passes anybody else but also never allows anybody else to pass him, or a man who has some bricks left over after a job on his house but throws them away rather than give them to his neighbour. A recent example appeared in an article from the Africa News Service: “I have come to understand that he is the quintessential dog in the manger. Either he gets his object of pursuit or it is destroyed. It cannot go to any other contestant”.
The allusion is to one of Aesop’s fables, written about 600BC, in which a dog was taking a nap in a manger. When an ox came and tried to eat the hay in the manger, the dog barked furiously, snapped at him and wouldn’t let him get at his food, food that, of course, was useless to the dog. At last the ox gave up and went away muttering, “Ah, people often grudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves”.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added pieces
Zoilism; Fish-faced; Poach; Immensikoff; Habiliments; The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; Agister; The Word at War; Not so green as you’re cabbage-looking; Peely-wally; Draw a line in the sand; Porphyrogeniture; Set one’s cap at; Epicaricacy; Furthest and farthest; Hide one’s light under a bushel; Jentacular.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!