The history behind the idiom

The meaning and origin of Top Dog

A person who is successful or dominant in their field. A Top Dog controls the social or business world with the perception of having everything under control.

‘Top Dog’, ‘Upper Dog’, ‘Over Dog’, and ‘Under Dog’, ‘Bottom Dog’

Some sources link the origin of these terms to Pit-Sawing. True or not, the story helps to remember the meaning of the terms.  The irons that were used to hold the wood were called dogs. The senior man, who controlled the cutting, took the top handle standing on the wood. The junior, having the muscle power, took the bottom in the saw-pit below. The bottom position was much the more uncomfortable and the underdog as ended covered in sawdust.

A saw pit or sawpit is a pit over which lumber is positioned to be sawed with a long two-handled saw by two people, one standing above the timber and the other below.

Another theory is that the terms are related to literal dogfights in which the dog on top is clearly getting the better of the dispute and is able to impose himself on the one underneath.

More dog idioms

  • Dog-tired: Very tired. I was dog-tired after partying all night. 
  • Dog-eat-dog: When a situation is very competitive in a cruel and selfish way. Banking is a dog-eat-dog industry.
  • Lets sleeping dogs lie: When you choose to not talk about things which have caused problems in the past. Also used to not try to change a situation because it might cause problems. Can we just let sleeping dogs lie? I don’t want to discuss the matter any further?
  • Work like a dog: To work very hard. I worked like a dog all week in the annual report.
  • To be like a dog with a bone: To refuse to stop talking or thinking about something. To not give up. When it comes to debate, he’s like a dog with a bone.
  • To be like a dog with two tails: To be very happy. He was like a dog with two tails when he passed his exam.

Online Examples

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