Politics dictionary

hit dog

[hit dog]

What does hit dog mean?

Hit dog comes from the expression a hit dog will holler, meaning that a very defensive reaction to an accusation can be an admission of guilt.

Related words

savage AF, throwing shade, nice guy, fuckboy, race-baiting

Where does hit dog come from?

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Describing someone as a hit dog in the context of a hit dog will holler has been evidenced as far back as the 1880s. The Washington Post attributed the proverb to a 19th-century preacher named Samuel Porter Jones.

Jones, a lawyer-turned-pastor, frequently used the expression, “throw a stone into a crowd of dogs, and the hit dog will holler.” The moral of the proverb is that people who are offended (hit dog) by an accusation (stone) will speak out in exasperated defense (holler) in a group (crowd of dogs). In doing so, the offended person reveals their own sense of guilt.

Over time the phrase was shortened to just a hit dog, its sense generalizing to the notion that one’s outrage reveals their own guilt in some matter. Imagine one partner asks the other, “Did you forget to take out the trash last night?” The other may fly off the handle: “Why are you always accusing of me not doing my chores? Why are you always nagging me? I can’t believe you’d think I’d forget.” We might call that person a hit dog.

A hit dog will holler was catapulted into the public eye during the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election campaign. Democrat Andrew Gillum was attempting to become Florida’s first black Governor, running against a Donald Trump-aligning Republican, Ron DeSantis. When DeSantis was challenged on his associations with racists, he launched into an aggressive and floundering defense of himself. Gillum replied: “As my grandmother used to say: a hit dog will holler.” That is, DeSantis’s immediate defensiveness was a sign of guilt.

Examples of hit dog

Where there is smoke there is fire. If it walks like a duck quacks like a duck it is a duck. A hit dog will holler.
@sherrishavon, June 2017
I sail into you on your dram-drinking, theater-going, card-playing, and dancing, and the town rises up in arms against me; but it is the hit dog that hollers, you may put that down.
Sam Jones, Sam Jones' Own Book, 1887

A Hit Dog Will Holler: Unbalanced Imperious Bully Attacks Free Press, Yanks Their Credentials and Likely Plans To Just Keep At It

Abby Zimet, Common Dreams, November 2018

Who uses hit dog?

Aside from its 2018 political fame, people have been implicated as hit dogs in a variety of contexts for over 140 years.

As in the case of Andrew Gillum, it seems to be a popular aphorism passed down from grandmothers. Clearly, mothers in the South of a certain generation will gladly call-out a lot of knee-high hypocrites.


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This is not meant to be a formal definition of hit dog like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of hit dog that will help our users expand their word mastery.