Understanding the Idiom: "hair of the dog" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: Ellipsis of hair of the dog that bit one, a folk remedy for rabies by placing hair from the dog that bites one into the wound. The use of the phrase as a metaphor for a hangover treatment dates at least to the 16 century.The principle of “curing like with like” has existed in various cultures historically; see hair of the dog at Wikipedia for details; the use of the phrase “hair of the dog” for a hangover cure dates to antiquity, an early form being found in the Ugaritic text KTU 1.1114 line 29, where the chief god of the pantheon, 'i/el, takes some for his health. The usage is in turn a borrowing from Akkadian.

The Meaning

The idiom “hair of the dog” refers to drinking alcohol as a cure for a hangover. Yes, you read that right! The idea behind this is that if you drink more alcohol, it will alleviate your symptoms from drinking too much the night before. It’s like fighting fire with fire.

The Origin

The origin of this idiom can be traced back to ancient times when people believed in using animal parts as remedies for various ailments. One such remedy was using hair from a dog bite wound to treat the injury. This practice eventually evolved into using small amounts of alcohol as a cure for hangovers.

Today, “hair of the dog” has become a common phrase used by people who want to continue drinking despite feeling hungover from their previous night out. While some swear by its effectiveness, others caution against relying on alcohol as a solution to any problem.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “Hair of the Dog”

It is believed that the phrase originated in ancient times when people believed in using hair from a dog as a cure for rabies. The idea was that by ingesting small amounts of hair from an infected dog, one could build up immunity to the disease. Over time, this belief evolved into using alcohol as a cure for various ailments, including hangovers.

In medieval Europe, it was common practice to use alcohol as medicine. It was believed that drinking more alcohol would help alleviate symptoms such as headaches and nausea caused by excessive drinking. The term “hair of the dog” was first recorded in English literature in 1546 in John Heywood’s book “Proverbs”. In his book, he wrote: “I pray thee let me and my fellow have A hair of the dog that bit us last night.”

Today, the phrase has taken on a new meaning and is commonly used to refer to drinking more alcohol as a way to cure a hangover. While there is no scientific evidence to support this method, many people still swear by it.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “Hair of the Dog”

The idiom “hair of the dog” is a well-known phrase used to describe a cure for a hangover. However, this phrase has evolved over time and can now be used in various contexts to refer to different situations.

One common variation of this idiom is “a hair off the dog that bit you.” This version implies that by consuming a small amount of what caused your discomfort, you will feel better. This can be applied not only to alcohol but also to other unpleasant experiences such as an argument or physical injury.

In addition, “hair of the dog” can also be used metaphorically. For example, if someone is struggling with procrastination, they may say they need to take a “hair of the dog” approach and tackle their tasks head-on instead of avoiding them.

Idiom Variation Meaning
Hair of the dog A hair off the dog that bit you To consume something that caused discomfort in order to alleviate it
Hair of the dog Metaphorical use To tackle a problem head-on instead of avoiding it

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “hair of the dog”


– A little bit of what you fancy

– The hair that bit you

– The cure is in the cup

– Like cures like


– Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

– Prevention is better than cure

In terms of cultural insights, “hair of the dog” has been used in various cultures throughout history. For example, in ancient Rome, people believed that drinking a little bit more alcohol could help alleviate a hangover. Similarly, in traditional Chinese medicine, certain herbs and foods are believed to have properties that can counteract negative effects from overindulging.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “hair of the dog”

In order to fully understand and incorporate the idiom “hair of the dog” into your vocabulary, it is important to practice using it in various contexts. The following exercises will help you become more comfortable with this expression and its usage.

Exercise 1: Conversation Practice

Find a partner or group of friends and engage in a conversation where you use the idiom “hair of the dog”. Try to use it naturally within your dialogue, rather than forcing it into the conversation. This will help you become more confident when using idiomatic expressions in everyday language.

Exercise 2: Writing Practice

Write a short story or paragraph that incorporates the idiom “hair of the dog”. This exercise will allow you to practice using idioms in written form and also encourage creativity in your writing.

Note: Remember that idioms are not always literal translations, so be sure to understand their meaning before incorporating them into your speech or writing.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “hair of the dog”

When using idioms in conversation, it is important to understand their meaning and usage. The idiom “hair of the dog” is no exception. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this expression.

One mistake is assuming that “hair of the dog” refers to a literal hair from a dog. This is not the case at all! In fact, this idiom has nothing to do with dogs or their hair. It actually refers to an old folk remedy for curing a hangover by drinking more alcohol.

Another mistake is using this idiom incorrectly in context. For example, saying “I need some hair of the dog after my workout” makes no sense because it does not relate to alcohol consumption or hangovers.

It’s also important to avoid overusing this idiom in conversation. While it can be a fun and catchy phrase, constantly repeating it can become annoying and detract from your message.

Lastly, be aware of cultural differences when using idioms like “hair of the dog.” Not everyone may be familiar with its meaning or usage, so it’s best to use discretion when incorporating it into conversations with non-native speakers.

Common Mistakes Correct Usage
Assuming it relates to dogs or their hair Understanding its true meaning as a hangover cure involving alcohol consumption
Using it incorrectly in context Using it only in situations related to hangovers and alcohol consumption
Overusing the idiom in conversation Using it sparingly and appropriately to avoid sounding repetitive or annoying
Ignoring cultural differences when using the idiom Being mindful of whether your audience is familiar with the expression before using it in conversation


  1. Hair of the dog on MedTerms
  2. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898): “In Scotland it is a popular belief that a few hairs of the dog that bit you applied to the wound will prevent evil consequences. Applied to drinks, it means, if overnight you have indulged too freely, take a glass of the same wine next morning to soothe the nerves. ‘If this dog do you bite, soon as out of your bed, take a hair of the tail in the morning.’”
  3. "Poil de ce chien" in Francois Rabelais' 16th century pentology La Vie de Gargantua et Pantagruel, Book 5, Chapter XLVI
  4. KTU means “Keilalphabetische Texte aus Ugaric” (Cuneiform Alphabet Text from Ugarit)
  5. W.M. Schniedewind, J.H. Hunt, A Primer on Ugaritic, p. 121. Cambridge University Press, 2007. >ISBN.
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