no dog in this fight

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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no dog in this fight

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed May 23, 2012 6:23 am

Here’s one sure to please those of us who like down-home (pardon me for nouning an adjective).
<2012 “But the Bush administration had its hands full and was determined to steer clear of this European war. Their shiniest new hero, Gen. Collin Powell, reportedly called Bosnia a ‘nonstrategic interest.’ He wrote in a New York Times op-ed, ‘The crisis in Bosnia is especially complex . . . one with deep ethnic and religious roots that go back a thousand years. The solution must ultimately be a political one.’ Bush’s secretary of state, James Baker, put it succinctly: ‘We don’t have a dog in this fight.’”—Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow, page 178>

Since James Baker is a Texas boy, I immediately went to my down-home expressions books and took a close look at the two I have on Texas expressions, but no dog in this fight was not to be found. After scrounging around on the Internet for a while, I pieced together the following:

NO DOG IN THIS FIGHT / DON’T HAVE A DOG IN THIS FIGHT : You are not taking sides in an argument; don't have a dog in the race; don’t have a horse in this race; don’t favor one side over another. The expression is usually used in the negative but there are exceptions (see 2012 below). It is a favorite of U.S. politicians.

Etymology: If you don’t have a dog of yours in a dog fight (a la Michael Vick’s prison time) or are not betting on one (also illegal), you have no interest in taking sides. No dog in this fight does sound like ‘an old Southern expression,’ but there is little evidence of it being old or necessarily of Southern origin.

The expression was made famous by James Baker (see quote above) and was used by him on occasion in a slightly different form (see 1982 quote below).

The following quotes are from archived sources:
<1982 “Last year, for example, when Senator Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington, wondered why the majority leader was sitting out a debate, Mr. Baker offered one of his down-home epigrams: ‘Ain't got no dog in this fight.’ —New York Times, 28 March>

<1990 “The Saudi King is spineless, and Syria and Egypt are unprepared for war; the Soviets might join an arms embargo for Western opinion's sake but they have as great a stake as Iraq in higher oil prices; and the Israelis have no dog in this fight.”—New York Times, 7 August>

<1997 “Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) . . . said she has some questions for Weld involving foreign policy and drug policy and has ‘no position’ now on his possible nomination. [[R-Miss., Trent]] Lott was more to the point: ‘I don't have a dog in this fight right now,’ he said.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 6 June>

<2005 “Denver Water owns water rights on mountain streams that could be used for kayak runs. ‘We don't have a dog in this fight, but we're interested in the fight generally.’”— Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), 16 March>

<2008 “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged his friends in NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan, especially to the hot war in the south. . . . But the public in these countries blindly believe they have no dog in this fight and are pressing their governments to get out.”— Christian Science Monitor, 4 February>

<2011 “Though I don’t have a dog in this fight, Microsoft also quoted me in its brief, since as chairman of the American Dialect Society’s new-words committee I was responsible for making the announcement that ‘app’ had been selected as the society’s 2010 word of the year.”—New York Times, 26 March>

<2012 “You have a situation where people have a dog in this fight threatening to sue the city . . . “—Milpitas Post (California), 18 January> [[positive sense]]

Ken G – May 22, 2012

Re: no dog in this fight

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Thu May 24, 2012 11:50 am

If a person doesn't have a dog in a fight, should he muzzle himself?

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