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Home --> Language --> Story Time --> Hot Dog

Hot Dog

Claim:   The term "hot dog" was coined in the early 1900s by a cartoonist who couldn't spell "dachshund."

Status:   False.

Examples:

[Solomon, 1999]

In 1906 cartoonist T.A. Dorgan penned a drawing of a dachshund inside an elongated bun. Dorgan didn’t know how to spell "dachshund," so he wrote the term "hot dog" instead . . . and the name stuck.
 

[takeourword.com, 1999]

Hot dog has an amusing etymology. The cartoonist T.A. "Tad" Dorgan sketched a dachshund in an elongated bun in the early part of this century, and the term hot dog was born.

Origins:   The notion that one of the original American fast foods, a sausage inside a bun (also known as a frankfurter, a wiener, or a red hot) was rechristened the "hot dog" in the early 1900s by a New York Journal cartoonist who couldn't spell "dachshund" has been a persistent bit of linguistic folklore for many years. The way the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council tells it:
The term "hot dog" was coined in 1901 in New York City at the Polo Grounds, home field at various times for both the New York Yankees and the Giants.

On Hot dog a chilly April day, concessionaire Harry Stevens (the company he founded is still in business) was losing money trying to sell ice cream and cold soda. He sent his salesmen out to buy up all the "dachshund" sausages they could find, along with rolls to put them in.

Soon his vendors were selling hot dogs from portable hot-water tanks, shouting "They're red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they're red hot."

Hearst Newspapers cartoonist Tad Dorgan, working on deadline and short on ideas, observed the vendors and hastily drew a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages nestled in their rolls. Not sure how to spell "dachshund," he simply scrawled the words "hot dog."

His drawing became a hit, and so did the hot dog's connection with baseball. So, for want of a dictionary, an American icon was born.
This is also an apocryphal bit of linguistic folklore: No copy of Dorgan's cartoon has yet been found, and both the practice of selling sausages in buns and the habit of calling them "hot dogs" were around well before the 1900s.

Jokes about sausages being made from dogs (and dachshunds looking like sausages) have been around for hundreds of years, of course. The term "hot dog," used as a slang reference to a nattily-dressed fellow, appeared at least as early as 1894, and it wasn't much later that the word "dog" — and then the term "hot dog" — was applied to the sausage-in-a-bun combination.

The 5 October 1895 edition of the Yale Record included a poem about "The Kennel Club," a popular campus lunch wagon which sold sausages in buns:
ECHOES FROM THE LUNCH WAGON
"'Tis dogs' delight to bark and bite,"
Thus does the adage run.
But I delight to bite the dog
When placed inside a bun.
Two weeks later, the Yale Record printed a fanciful bit of fiction about the lunch wagon's being stolen — along with its owner, who awoke to find himself and his cart amidst a bunch of chapel attendees. The owner turned the circumstances to his advantage, doing a bustling business with those who "contentedly munched hot dogs during the whole service."

By the early twentieth century — about the time T.A. Dorgan was supposedly "inventing" the term — "hot dog" was already supplanting the other common names for a sausage on a bun.

Last updated:   13 July 2007

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2014 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
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  Sources Sources:
    Barnhart, David K. and Allan A. Metcalf.   America in So Many Words.
    Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.   ISBN 0-395-86020-2   (p. 192).

    Solomon, Judith H.   "Testers Add Their Own Special Touches to Franks."
    The Detroit News.   3 June 1999.

    Take Our Word For It.   "Words to the Wise."
    http://www.takeourword.com.   9 August 1999.