This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Nuts and Bolts: shaggy dog stories.

Shaggy Dog

A shaggy dog story is one that meanders on for ages being mostly boring and irrelevant, and then goes and has an ending that doesn't resolve anything.

There may be jokes along the way, but the main joke is on the audience.

The origins of the term shaggy dog story are disputed, but this is the one told by the great Eric Partridge.

A rich and aristocratic London family offers a huge reward for their lost shaggy dog, upon which an enterprising American brings a very shaggy dog all the way across the Atlantic, only for the butler to shut the door in his face with the words "but not so shaggy as that, sir!"

Of course a shaggy dog story that's been cut down to a single sentence isn't a shaggy dog story at all (although as that story is about a shaggy dog I suppose it must be) but there are plenty of shaggy dog stories about.

Think about it: long, dull, largely irrelevant, and without a proper ending...

Yep. Nowadays, often as not they go by the name of literary fiction.

Word To Use Today: shaggy. This word is from the Old English sceacga, a thicket, and is related to Old Norse words for beard, tip, and forest.


  1. As a child, I had a book called something like: "The Big Book of Shaggy Dog Stories."

    It was big, without pictures, and incredibly boring. Still, I persevered with it, reading each of the stories, and now I can't remember a single one.

    And I realise the joke of the entire book was on me ...

    I feel so manipulated.

    1. I know what it's like: a similar thing happened to me on a bigger scale in A level Eng Lit.