Everybody loves an underdog. But not everybody knows how they earned the nickname. In honor of the NCAA tournament and all the upsets that are sure to occur (go Murray State!), I set out to shed some light on the underdog. Here’s what I found out.
For those of you who don’t follow sports, an underdog refers to a team or individual who is generally expected to lose. Think: the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team upsetting the Soviets, or James “Buster” Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. From what I can tell there are a couple of theories regarding the phrase’s origin.
According to one of my favorite sites, Phrases.org, many believe that the word got its start at the shipyard. “When wooden planks were sawn by hand, two men did the job using a two-handed saw. The senior man took the top handle, standing on the wood, and the junior took the bottom, in the saw-pit below.” Now, here’s where it starts to make sense. The wood was held in place by irons that were nicknamed “dogs.” Apparently, the man in the pit had the harder job, as it was far less comfortable. He became known as the underdog, while the guy above was the “top dog.”
Good story, and it makes sense to me, but Phrases.org points out that there’s no proof to back it up. Far more likely, the word was originally used in reference to dog fighting. The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that the word comes from “the beaten dog in a fight.” India’s national newspaper writes that bookies kept tabs on which dog won and which lost for future fights. The one likely to lose was labeled the underdog. WritersBlock.com adds that the term “may have originated in a popular 19th century song, entitled “The Under-Dog in the Fight.” Some lyrics: “But for me, I shall never pause to ask/Which dog may be in the right/For my heart will beat, while it beats at all/For the under-dog in the fight.” You can read a few stanzas here.
Do you guys have a favorite underdog? Rocky Balboa? The Chicago Cubs? The American auto industry? Please leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading,
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!