A compliment? An insult?
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Putting On The Dog Phrase
Credit: Getty Images/Slim Aarons/Stringer

Southerners have their fair share of unique sayings and phrases, from the classic (and all-encompassing) "bless your heart" to the ever-charming "heavens to Betsy!" However, there are some quirky ditties that even a multigenerational Southerner might not have ever heard. The kind of expression that seems to defy explanation, but the meaning is just inherently known by those who grew up hearing it. One such saying is "putting on the dog."

Let's get a few things out of the way. No, it doesn't involve a labrador retriever costume, nor a stiff drink after a night of overindulgence. "Putting on the dog" has a very specific, yet flexible gist and can be heard on many occasions when Southerners are around. At the core, it means to put on a flashy display or a show, or gussy it up. Someone might say it about others in good-natured talk or themselves as a self-deprecating compliment. Still confused? Here are instances in which "putting on the dog" is an appropriate description. 

If someone is throwing a party and pulls out all the stops, including the good silver, you could say they're "putting on the dog." If someone gets extra gussied up—with hot rollers and lipstick and all—you could impressively note that they "put on the dog." If your in-laws are coming in town and you've whipped out everything from the embroidered hand towels and homemade cheese straws, you're "putting on the dog." It can go for people, events, items, or really anything a Southerner dubs it so. 

It's important to note that, though the meaning behind the phrase might have initially been rooted in gossip, it's actually not a Southern insult at all. Ultimately, "putting on the dog" is most often used as praise for effort put in, not for calling anyone a try-hard or ostentatious. Though, a mean-spirited person could attempt to use it in that way. (Sadly, there's always someone.)

Now that you know what "putting on the dog" means, say hello to your new favorite phrase to use as much as you can work it into conversation. It's a fun one.