Idioms

Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.

Idioms

dog in the manger

dog in the manger

Meanings:
– one who prevents others from enjoying something despite having no use for it
– spiteful and mean-spirited
– someone who keeps something that they do not want in order to prevent someone else from getting it
– a person who selfishly keeps something that he or she does not really need or want so that others may notuse or enjoy it.

Examples:
1. Stop being such a dog in the manger and let your sister ride your bike if you’re not using it.
2. Why be a dog in the manger? If you aren’t going to use those tickets, let someone else have them.
3. Young children are probably the best examples of dogs in the manger, refusing to let other children play with their toys even though they are not playing with them themselves.

Origin:
The first specific reference to ‘a dog in a manger’ is quite old, being first cited in William Bullein’s A dialogue against the feuer pestilence, 1564:
“Like vnto cruell Dogges liyng in a Maunger, neither eatyng the Haye theim selues ne sufferyng the Horse to feed thereof hymself.”

‘Dog in the manger’ is still used allusively to refer to any churlish behavior of the ‘spoilsport’ sort. If Google searches are anything to go by, you are just as likely to find it written as ‘Dog in the manager’, a surreal version that escaped even the inventive Steinhowel.

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The expression ‘dog in a manger’ comes from a fable of the same name written by Aesop, who was possibly Ethiopian but spent much of his life in Athens. It is not known exactly when the first of Aesop’s fables were written as the fables were originally handed down from one generation to the next just like a myth or a legend. It is, however, believed that Aesop lived from about 620 to 560 B.C.

Fables are short stories which illustrate a particular moral and teach a lesson to children. The theme and characters appeal to children and the stories are often humorous and entertaining. Fables can also be described as tales or yarns which have a message in their narrative such as a parable might have. Fables can often pass into our culture as myths and legends. This particular fable goes something like this:

A Dog looking out for its afternoon nap jumped into the manger of an ox and lay there cosily upon the straw. But soon the ox, returning fom its afternoon work, came up to the manger and wanted to eat some of the straw. The dog, angry at being awakened from its slumber, stood up and barked at the Ox, and whenever it came near attempted to bite it. At last the Ox had to give up the hope of getting at the straw, and went away hungry.

The expression means that people often begrudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves.

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In British English, 1555–65.

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