A Dog in the Manger – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to tell someone that their behavior has no place in your world, and that they are the kind of person who doesn’t grant anyone the same things that they might have in their life? The expression ‘a dog in the manger’ is a figurative way to point this out to someone. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The saying ‘a dog in the manger’ is a type of figurative expression that means someone is ungrateful or doesn’t grant anyone else anything.

The phrase ‘a dog in the manger’ is most common when it is used as an insult, often when speaking about someone in the third-person. Though rare, it can also be said to someone as a direct insult as “[you are a] dog in the manger”.

The expression is used to say that [he/she/they] are a ‘dog in the manger’, or thus that they are greedy and ungrateful like dogs who have just walked into a manger full of other animals.

‘Dog in the manger’ is an expression that implies someone is overstaying their welcome, or taking liberties where they do not really belong.

Sometimes the term ‘dogs in the manger’ is considered acceptable when the speaker is referring to several people at once.

The phrase is almost never used as ‘dog in the mangers’ as the plural of manger would not add anything relevant to the saying.

Example Usage

“He was a real spiteful character, my grandfather. He would never let anyone in the house have anything nice. If he were alive today, then I bet you he would still be a real dog in the manger.”
“Sure, everything you read about them on the internet is great, but they were real dogs in the manger when they were younger.”

“There’s something about the way he eyes the chocolates at the buffet that makes me think he’s a real dog in the manger. No wonder nobody ever wants to go out to dinner with the guy.”

“If you aren’t sure what you should think about the guy, he’s a real dog in the manger. I wouldn’t be caught dead with him at a party, even if it was my own funeral.”

Origin

The origin of the phrease ‘dog in the manger’ to describe someone who is greedy and taking things from somewhere they are not wanted comes from a Greek fable.

The story has been translated multiple times, and has become famous simply as The Dog in the Manger. Aesop was one of the first Greek writers to record the fable into a formal, written version – and most translations of the story rely on this one.

A ‘dog in the manger’ is someone who does not grant anyone else something, while not being truly interested in it themselves.

Someone who hangs on to useless things just for the purpose of depriving someone else of it would be called ‘a dog in the manger’ to match the popular fable.

Phrases Similar to A Dog in the Manger

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Phrases Opposite to A Dog in the Manger

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What is the Correct Saying?

  • [Someone is/is not] a dog in the manger

Ways People May Say A Dog in the Manger Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can misuse or misunderstand the expression ‘dog in the manger’.

A ‘dog in the manger’ is someone who is unnecessarily greedy for things they don’t want or need, just for the purpose of depriving someone else.

The fable has been translated into many languages, but there are many languages in which the popular fable has no point of reference (and might confuse readers).

Acceptable Ways to Phrase A Dog in the Manger

The correct way to use ‘dog in the manger’ is as a direct or indirect insult to someone.

The phrase ‘dog in the manger’ means that someone is deliberately depriving others of something they have no need for themselves.

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