Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Hotdogs and Hotdogging

You should see me ski!Bud Hiller, who works in the Bucknell’s Bertrand Library, wrote today to ask: “What is the derivation of the word hotdog for the meaning as in this sentence:

‘Brian Gockley is a crazy skier. You should have seen him hot-dogging down the slopes, doing jumps, skiing backwards, skiing on one ski. Too bad he ran into a tree.’

One of our international students at the tech desk asked me and I couldn’t think of any reason for why hotdog means what it does.”

Althought the dates in my version have some tight tolerances, I am convinced the story goes something like this. Sometime well before the academic year 1894-95, students at Yale began to refer to the wagons that came to campus selling what were widely known then as “dachshund sausages” in buns, as “dog wagons”. What they sold were soon called “dogs”.

An article in the October 19, 1895 issue of the Yale Record, the campus newspaper, ended with, “They contentedly munched hot dogs during the whole service”. This is the first known recorded instance of hot dog in this sense and both words were probably accented at this time. (Hotdog today has only one accent which means it is one word.) In fact, by 1900 it was one word also used metaphorically (because of the implication of hot) to refer to someone who performed well or something that was really excellent, e.g. “He has made some hot-dog drawings for….”

The verbal sense comes from the exclamation “Hot dog!” and was first used in sports to refer to players who liked to show off. Someone who hotdogs is trying to get those watching him to exclaim their delight. This usage comes from the sense of someone who is excellent at something but this exclamation also serves as a euphemism of “Hot damn!” itself a euphemism for an even stronger¬†interjection (G-D!)

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