What does “dog in the manger” mean?

Uncover the fascinating story behind the famous idiom 'dog in the manger', used to describe selfish individuals who withhold things from others. Learn its ancient Greek roots and its relevance in modern English.

Origin and Meaning

The idiom “dog in the manger” is a phrase used to describe a person who selfishly withholds something from others, even though they have no use for it themselves.

The origins of this phrase can be traced back to ancient Greek fables, specifically the story of “The Dog in the Manger.”

Aesop’s Fable Context

The story of “The Dog in the Manger” is a fable attributed to Aesop, a Greek storyteller believed to have lived in the 6th century BCE.

In the fable, a dog lies in a manger filled with hay, preventing the cattle from eating it despite having no use for it himself.

The story has been interpreted in various ways over the centuries, but the basic message remains the same: one who spitefully prevents others from having something for which one has no use.

Can “on the mend” also be used to describe a situation involving a dog?

Yes, the meaning of on the mend can absolutely be used to describe a situation involving a dog.

If a pup is recovering from an injury or illness, you could say they are on the mend.

It’s a versatile phrase that can be used for any situation of healing and improvement.

The Phrase in Modern English

The phrase “dog in the manger” has been used in modern English since the 16th century.

The earliest written record of the phrase comes from William Bullein’s “A Dialogue Against the Feuer Pestilence” in 1564.

The phrase has since become a common idiom used to describe someone who selfishly withholds something from others, even though they have no use for it themselves.

Example sentences

  • She’s a dog in the manger when it comes to sharing her toys with her younger siblings.
  • The company’s CEO was accused of being a dog in the manger, hoarding profits that could have been shared with employees.
  • He’s always been a dog in the manger when it comes to his ideas, refusing to share them with anyone else.

Synonyms

  • Selfish
  • Stingy
  • Greedy