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So What Does “Hair Of The Dog” Actually Mean?

I had a fucking terrible hangover earlier this week. I’m on vacation and we thought we would have a few bottles of champagne and then, even smarter, we went out to a gay club at midnight and proceeded to have multiple rounds of champagne. We then went home and passed out, which means you are waking up at noon feeling like a dog shat you out its asshole.

I sat staring at my computer that morning wondering how to form words and then if it would be smart to cut my losses and have a glass of champagne as soon as I could. While that idea made me kind of puke up a little, I did wonder where the phrase to describe the idea—”Hair Of The Dog”—came from. It’s a funny phrase to deconstruct: if you are hungover, people suggest you get some of the “hair of the dog that bit you.” Basically, you want to find whatever caused your trouble and take a piece back from it. Is that what it means? What does “hair of the dog” mean?

As colloquialisms go, “hair of the dog” has a history. According to MedicineNet.com (Which is a sketchy website, I apologize.), the phrase comes from a “veterinary” practice of curing diseases associated with dog bites by placing dog hairs from the dog that caused the bite into the wound. Yes, you are literally taking hairs from the dog that bit you and using it as a remedy for your revival.

This isn’t just an American belief either. The origin or shared practice of hair dogging goes back a long time, some (Wikipedia.) claim it was even going around in the BCs. The most reliable truth telling is from the great 1890s reference book Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. Brewer explains…

“In Scotland it is a popular belief that a few hairs of the dog that bit you applied to the wound will prevent evil consequences. Applied to drinks, it means, if overnight you have indulged too freely, take a glass of the same wine within 24 hours to soothe the nerves. ‘If this dog do you bite, soon as out of your bed, take a hair of the tail the next day.'”

There you have it. The truth behind the dog hair is that, yes, there is actual dog hair there. Next time you are in need of corpse reviving after a night of heavy drinking, think about how dog hairs were once used to cure ails caused by a bite from said dog.

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