Where Did the Saying “Hair of the Dog” Come From?


Many a groggy soul has reached for that mythical “hair of the dog” in the vain hope of curing a bad case of the Irish Flu…but few stop to think about where this peculiar phrase originated.

Like many expressions involving our furry friends, it’s a bit of a shaggy dog story. The phrase, full of whimsy and a touch of desperation, suggests that a small measure of what caused one’s ailment might also be its remedy, specifically in the context of drinking.

This odd phrase actually dates back to a time when people believed that putting the hair of a dog into a wound caused by that very dog would prevent infection.

Seems plausible.

Fast forward to modern times, and “Hair of the Dog” has morphed into a cheeky way to suggest that a small dose of what caused your pain (usually alcohol) might just be the cure.

Now, the real question is, how did we get from medieval wound treatment to nursing hangovers with a Bloody Mary?

Let’s find out!

Anecdotal Antidotes: Origins of the Phrase

The phrase hair of the dog is a shortened version of “the hair of the dog that bit you.” This peculiar idea – that a rabid dog’s hair placed in the wound it caused could prevent rabies – stems from an ancient notion of like cures like.

In other words, the homeopathic medicine we know today.

It surfaced in various ancient texts, hinting at the sheer longevity of the concept.

However, this notion didn’t stay lodged in medical practices; it wagged its way into the English language, undergoing a metaphorical transformation.

When one cries out for a morning tipple to stave off last night’s overindulgences, they are unwittingly hearkening back to this curious historical treatment.

Legendary Literature: Brewer’s Influence

Now, for a twist of literary flavor: Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, the brain behind the beloved Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, leaves no stone unturned when unraveling the roots of our most whimsical expressions.

The phrase also fetched a spot in Rabelais’ works, and it was thrown a bone in The Proverbs of John Heywood.

This witty assembly of characters and cultural references has immortalized “hair of the dog” as not just a saying, but a snippet of an inebriated folktale.

Hair of the Dog in Various Cultures

From a Scottish sip to a Korean cure, “hair of the dog” is a hangover remedy found in many cultures. This expression is steeped in history, with diverse and oft-humorous applications worldwide.

Proverbial Pints: European Traditions

In the misty highlands of Scotland, one might fancy a spicy “wedge” of whiskey to ward off the woes of last night’s revelry.

Meanwhile, in Germany, they don’t horse around; the Germans traditionally reach for a hearty Katerfrühstück, a “hangover breakfast,” often featuring a bold beer.

Even the Hungarian beverages Unicum (snicker, snicker) and Pálinka are a testament to central Europe’s lasting affair with morning-after elixirs.

Across the North Sea, Norwegian and Danish Vikings might not have said no to a nip of mead, and in the Czech Republic, Becherovka kicks the rooster away.

Hair of the Dog Around the World

Should you wake in Japan with a spinning head, a jolt of Ukon no Chikara, a turmeric drink, could set you straight.

Hop across to China, and you might be offered suanmeitang, a hearty beverage made from rock sugar and smoked plums.

Crossing into Costa Rica, the solution might be a fiery Chili guaro, an eye-opener made with local liquor and hot sauce.

In Korea, morning salvation comes in the form of Haejangguk, a “soup to chase a hangover,” chock-full of veggies, and often, a heartwarming wedge of pig.

Wrapping it Up

In the English-speaking corners of the world, the phrase has outlived countless proverbs, from the English language adage to American colloquialisms, proving that sometimes humor is the best medicine.

Whether it be a cultural cocktail or a legendary liquor, it’s clear that humans across the globe have been creatively nursing their hangovers since the dawn of fermented delights.