A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the origin of "hot dog"?

March 8, 2001

Dear Straight Dope:

Why call it Hot Dog? What thing in that food have relation with dog?? Thank you.

Nobody is having relations with dogs, Ling. Allow me to quote from "Hot Dog! 'Big Apple' Explained" in the Wall Street Journal of Jan. 2, 2001, written by (ahem) me:

The commonly told story is that "hot dog" began on a cold day in New York's Polo Grounds in the early 1900s, when food concessionaire Harry Stevens began selling sausages in long buns to warm up his shivering customers. Supposedly sports cartoonist T.A. Dorgan captured the event in a drawing, depicting the sausages as dachshunds and calling them "hot dogs" because he couldn't spell "frankfurter." Nice story, but it's just (sorry) baloney.

[Barry] Popik [described earlier in the story as the "restless genius of American etymology"] established that the term "hot dog" was current at Yale in the fall of 1894, when "dog wagons" sold hot dogs at the dorms, the name a sarcastic comment on the provenance of the meat. Did the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council embrace this finding, which Barry sent to them? No. We might have predicted this. But he took it hard just the same.

Barry, as regular Straight Dope readers know, is the part-time New York City parking judge who has done so much to clarify the origins of "Big Apple," "Windy City," and other expressions. Right now he's working on the origin of "the whole nine yards," which has baffled word sleuths (including, it must be said, Cecil) for years--and yes, we've heard the one about the ammo belts for the .50-caliber machine gun used in World War II. The latest word comes from a guy who says he heard a military instructor use the term several times during a class in 1964. That argues for a military origin for the expression, but if it originated during World War II, why can't we find cites earlier than 1964? Barry is still working on it. To cite myself again:

"Give me a month," says Barry. I'm not holding my breath. But 10 bucks says he gets to the bottom of it before anybody else.

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