It’s A Doggy Dog World … Or Is it?

It's a doggy dog world

A doggy dog world would be populated by billions of yippy Yorkies and Pomeranians. Adorable and annoying, but is that what the saying It’s a doggy dog world actually means? Nope. Because that’s not the saying!

The correct idiom is . . . 

. . . dog-eat-dog . . . all of a sudden, we don’t feel so happy and cuddly anymore. The meaning of the real idiom is “it’s ruthlessly competitive out there so you’ve got to fight to get yours.”

Doggy dog is an example of an eggcorn in linguistics (“a misheard word or phrase”). The original saying (dog-eat-dog) is misheard or spoken so quickly, it sounds like something else. Using eggcorns in conversation (whether you know it or not) often isn’t a big deal, but it becomes problematic in writing. You wouldn’t want to describe the cutthroat climate on Wall Street as “doggy dog.”

(Want to know more about eggcorns and other word blunders? Check out these terms for common word mistakes.)

We beg you, for your own pride, decency, and livelihood, never to describe a knowledgeable individual or institution as a suppository of information. You will be nipped in butt and bud. Here’s‘s full definition of suppository: “a solid, canonical mass of medicinal substance that melts upon insertion into the rectum or vagina.”

Instead, please say . . .

To keep the funniest/worst eggcorn in existence entirely out of your scope of speech, just remember your dearly beloved grandma is a repository of information; “a human storehouse of abundant knowledge.” 

Uncle Marvin is a maestro at tongue-and-cheek humor. Ever year on Christmas Eve he bellows that Santa’s favorite singer is Elf-is Presley, then sticks out his tongue, and grabs your cheek (maybe he grabs his own, too).

Either way, there’s tongue and cheek, right?

The actual phrase, tongue-in-cheek (if we’re following the literal meaning) also requires both facial features, but the tongue remains inside the mouth and is thrust into the cheek (left or right side, it doesn’t matter).

This facial choreography figuratively describes a kind of ironic humor. The idea is, whatever’s being said shouldn’t be taken seriously, and is followed by the jokester biting his tongue to hold back laughter.

A king has free reign of his kingdom. Everything is smooshed under his thumb, from the vassals slaving in his fields to the court jesters doing the chicken dance at banquets. When the king learns his “reign” is just an eggcorn, he’s going to be pissed.

In fact, the king disappears entirely from the picture, as does the idea that free reign means strict rule over all things. 

Instead, enter a horse and its rider who holds the horse’s reins or straps that control the animal’s movements. The true phrase free rein is almost the opposite of what’s described above: The rider loosens his grip on the reins, giving the horse more freedom to move how it wants. Having free rein means freedom from control . . . not controlling others’ freedoms.

We clarified that the dogs featured in the first saying are actually eating each other in a ferocious competition. But, before the alpha dog devours the namby-pamby pooch, he nips it in the butt. Just goes right for the rump and starts nibbling. Nibbles turn to chomps and the rest of Namby-Pamby is history (in Alpha Dog’s stomach).

Again, this works well for our bizarre eggcorn scenario, because it shows how a misheard saying still makes sense in a bizarre way. But, the actual saying doesn’t involve the posterior—canine or otherwise. Instead, it’s about gardening.

Nip it in the bud means “cut the undeveloped part of the plant before it blooms.” By extension, if buds are the weeds or “minor inconveniences” in life, it’s best to cut them out early before they develop into bigger issues.

A mute point is really difficult to make or discuss. First of all, the point is mute (silent), which means it doesn’t want to be shared in the first place. Even deaf people don’t make mute points; they just use a different language system to voice their points of view with others.

Well, a mute point is hard to make because the true term is moot point. Moot has a couple definitions that seem to cancel each other out . . . but the saying generally means “having little practical value or meaning.” Going full circle . . . a mute point is a moot point. Now you know.

When you’re trying to make a point, but you don’t want to seem to self-righteous or like a know-it-all, you tend to whip out this phrase to lighten the mood.

But, what the heck is an intensive purpose?

Well, an intensive purpose means nothing in terms of this phrase, because it’s actually for all intents and purposes.

Intents and purposes are essentially synonyms, so this phrase is redundant, but the redundancy works well to convey the meaning of all purposes.

For the most part, use the above phrase. But, purposes can be intensive. Your purpose to work out at the gym five times a week for three-hour stretches would be characterized by a crazy (questionable) degree of intensity (i.e., “All my intensive purposes at the gym are paying off”).

When you’re getting too close to messing something up or when you’re about to really piss someone off, you’re towing the line.

Wait . . . this one isn’t right?

Okay, to clarify, tow the line would work perfectly well in a nautical sense: A sailor flings rope to a receiver on land who physically tugs, pulls, and tows the line attached to the boat until the vessel is safely docked and secured. It’s a metaphor for “working hard.” Lovely, but not what the phrase means.

Instead, the true phrase is toe the line. Yes, imagine your little tootsies kissing a line on the ground. The expression comes from an old practice common in schools, the military, and other institutions where daily roll-call was the norm. Individuals had to toe the line, or ensure they were perfectly lined up, standing at attention to yell “Here!” or receive orders. The original phrase is about obeying the rules.

I’m at your beckon call, you can count on me. Well, actually . . .

To beckon is “to summon or call someone.” So, a beckon call is a “call call.” Ok, then.

The real phrase is beck and call. The phrase is often used in the fuller form, to be at one’s beck and call, which means “to be freely available to someone and comply with their requests or demands.” 

The eggcorn is kind of understandable, because being at somebody’s beck and call means the person is always ready to be beckoned to do something. 

Undoubtedly, havoc can wreck objects and destroy hopes and dreams. And, being in the midst or aftermath of chaos stinks, so it figuratively reeks.

It may literally reek too if the havoc involves a blocked toilet that suddenly explodes fecal matter into the air and covers the entire bathroom floor in sewage—just saying.

So yeah, havoc wrecks and reeks in certain situations, but that’s not the actual saying . . .

Instead, things wreak havoc. Wreak (sounds like reek) means “to cause or inflict.”

“The combination of a poorly designed sewage system and the conglomeration of neighborhood waste funneling into our pipes wreaked havoc in our downstairs bathroom.” Gross, yet perfect sense.

Mount Interest looms treacherously in a history class. The teacher, wary of the room full of “I could care less-ers” has come prepared with harnesses, ropes, carabiners, and (God help her) ice picks.

After scaling the mount for several minutes, she hooks the sullen scholars with a crazy true story about how Columbus hoodwinked Native Americans into thinking he controlled the sun and moon. Her students sit full of excitement. She peaked Mount Interest!

Summiting a person’s cliff of enthusiasm sometimes happens . . . but piquing someone’s interest is more achievable. Pique means “to excite.” From the French piquer, “to prick or sting,” when someone’s interest is piqued, it’s as if the person’s been pricked by enlightenment.

Those piqued students that you just read about in the history class are sitting with baited breath after that crazy history story, right? 

Well, the history teacher did “hook” the students with a great historical narrative, get it? Fishing metaphors aside . . . it could make sense to think that when your breath stops, it’s as if an external force has baited or lured the breath right out of you. But, that’s an eggcorn.

The actual phrase bated breath isn’t metaphorical. Here, the a in abated has been lobbed off. Because abated means “diminished,” the phrase simply reflects the feeling of holding your breath, like when waiting in suspense. 

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