The hair of the dog

Example in use: “I had rather a heavy night last night and to be honest, I have a bit of a hangover.” “Really? What you need is the hair of the dog! Bloody Mary or a gin & tonic?!?”

Meaning: An alcoholic drink on the morning after a night out when you are not feeling so good with the intention of it making you feel better.

Possible German equivalent: Alkohol trinken, um den Pegel wieder anzuheben (Kater) – no real German equivalent

Possible origin: It is thought that this expression comes from the longer form “the hair of the dog that bit you” and refers to the past idea that if a rabid dog bit you, you could prevent infection by placing some of the dog’s hairs in the wound. Therefore, if you had been “bitten” by alcohol and were feeling bad, more of the same would make you feel better. There is a little evidence that the idiomatic meaning of this phrase was recorded as early as 1546…

“I pray thee let me and my fellow have

A hair of the dog that bit us last night -

And bitten were we both to the brain aright.

We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.”

… long before the literal meaning which seems to first appear in 1760 in A Treatise on Canine Madness:

“The hair of the dog that gave the wound is advised as an application to the part injured.”

There is a long tradition of thinking that “like cures like” but it should be stressed that neither of these “remedies” or “cures” for either rabies or hangovers have any scientific backing whatsoever!

hair / heər



Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.