Where Did The Phrase “The Dog Ate My Homework” Come From?
Dogs are known as man’s best friend. Dogs keep us safe, are hard workers … and can provide a handy excuse in a pinch. Maybe that’s why versions of the classic expression the dog ate my homework have been around for hundreds of years.
Today, the dog ate my homework is used as a stock example of the kind of silly excuses schoolchildren give for why their work isn’t finished. Very rarely do people say, “the dog ate my homework” and expect it to be taken literally; they use the expression as an example of a typically flimsy excuse.
So where did the phrase come from?
Forrest Wickman, a writer for Slate , describes the legend of the 6th-century Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise as the alleged first recorded “the dog ate my homework” story. According to the tale, Saint Ciarán had a tame young fox that would take his writings to his master for him. One day, the fox grew up and decided to eat the leather strap binding the writings together instead. Still, this tale is more Garden-of-Eden parable and less terrible schoolchild excuse.
The notion that dogs will eat just about anything, including paper, turns up in lots of stories over the centuries. An example comes from The Humors of Whist , published in 1808 in Sporting Magazine . In the story, the players are sitting around playing cards when one of them remarks that their companion would have lost the game had the dog not eaten the losing card. Good boy.
Some attribute the creation of the dog ate my homework to a joke that was going around at the beginning of the 20th century. In a tale found as far back as an 1894 memoir by Anglican priest Samuel Reynolds Hole, a preacher gives a shortened version of a sermon because a dog got into his study and ate some of the pages he had written. However, the clerk loved it because they had been wanting the preacher to shorten his sermons for years.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary , the first example of the dog ate my homework excuse in print can be found in a speech given by retiring headmaster James Bewsher in 1929 and published in the Manchester Guardian : “It is a long time since I have had the excuse about the dog tearing up the arithmetic homework.” The way this comment is phrased suggests that the whole dog ate my homework story had been around for some time before it was put in print.
When was the word homework created?
But in order for a dog to eat homework specifically, homework had to be invented (oh, and how we wish it hadn’t been). True, the word homework , as in what we call today housework , appears as early as 1653. But homework , as in school exercises to be done at home, isn’t found until 1852. Once we had homework , it was only a matter of time before the dog was accused of eating it.
How we use this phrase now
No matter the origin, sometime in the 1950s, the expression became set as the dog ate my homework . This inspired any number of riffs on the theme, like my cow ate my homework or my brother ate my homework . In the 1960s, the dog ate my homework continued to gain popularity. The expression popped up a couple times in politics over the years, like when President Reagan said to reporters in 1988, “I had hoped that we had marked the end of the ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ era of Congressional budgetry … but it was not to be.”
It seems unlikely that the dog ate my homework was ever used consistently or frequently by actual schoolchildren. In fact, it’s the unlikeliness of the story that makes it so funny and absurd as a joke. Instead, teachers and authority figures appear to have cited the dog ate my homework many times over the years as such a bad excuse they can’t believe students are really using it.
In the 21st century, students don’t spend as much time working with physical pen and paper as they once did. That may contribute to the decline in the use of the phrase. So, maybe soon we’ll see a new equally absurd phrase pop up. Come on Zoomers, you’ve got this.
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The Foo Dog Ate My Homework
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My Dog Ate My Homework
From the book The Biggest Burp Ever
My dog ate my homework. That mischievous pup got hold of my homework and gobbled it up.
My dog ate my homework. It’s gonna be late. I guess that the teacher will just have to wait.
My dog ate my homework. He swallowed it whole. I shouldn’t have mixed it with food in his bowl.
— Kenn Nesbitt
Copyright © 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Reading Level: Grade 1
Topics: Animal Poems , School Poems
Poetic Techniques: Irony , Narrative Poems
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From Our Listeners
Sometimes the dog really does eat your homework.
Last week, we brought you the story of how the phrase "The Dog Ate My Homework" came to be and how it morphed into a palpably ridiculous excuse. Turns out, sometimes its not an excuse at all. Weekend Edition host Scott Simon has a few stories from our listeners that swear, honest, the dog did eat their homework.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Last week, we tried to trace the origins of that legendary excuse "the dog ate my homework."
FORREST WICKMAN: One of the first examples is this guy. Saint Kieran, who around the fifth century had this fox that he found. And he started taking the fox around and at some point, the fox ate his Psalms.
SIMON: That's Forrest Wickman, a writer for Slate Magazine, who researched one of the most palpably ridiculous phrases of all time. But as many listeners told us, sometimes even ridiculous things can be true. They can happen to you.
JACQUELINE MOSS: My name is Jacqueline Moss, and I'm from Cumberland, Maine. And my dog really did eat my homework.
SIMON: Her beloved Labrador, Dusty, turned out to have a taste for history.
MOSS: When I was in sixth grade, we had to make a project for ancient civilization, and it was a Sumerian brick. I made it, and I left it on the radiator overnight. I came downstairs in the morning, and it had disappeared. And my dog - my Labrador was looking very guilty.
SIMON: But reasonably healthy. As it turns out, the formula her teacher gave her for Sumerian brick, was more like a recipe for a historically big dog biscuit.
MOSS: Yeah, she was fine. (LAUGHTER) There was nothing bad in it. It was just food coloring and flour and oats, salt. (LAUGHTER) So it must have been like, what she dreamed of because it was the size of a loaf of bread, and there was nothing left.
SIMON: Her teacher accepted her excuse. Harry Atwood, a high school English teacher in Dayton, Virginia, says he's heard all sorts of excuses from unprepared students. But one stands out. One day some years ago, he writes, a student came to class with the excuse that his parents had burned his homework. The following day, the local newspaper reported that the boy's family was out for a winter's drive high up in the Allegheny Mountains, and had punctured their gas tank on a rock. Soon out of gas, out of cell phone range and in below-freezing temperatures, the boy's family had used the contents of his backpack to start a fire. Excuse accepted. And finally...
LINDA BECKER: Hi, this is Linda Becker from Williamstown, Massachusetts. My dog ate my students' homework.
SIMON: That wasn't an audio glitch. She explains.
BECKER: I came home from teaching one day, and left my bag on the floor in the kitchen; went about my business. When I returned to the kitchen, my puppy - with his little, needle-like teeth - had pulled some student papers out of my bag, and chewed them up. Imagine the embarrassment of having to tell students, my dog ate your homework.
(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOG MUSIC)
SIMON: Well, Ms. Becker, I'm sure they'll accept your excuse, just this once.
SIMON: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
the dog ate my homework
English [ edit ]
Phrase [ edit ].
- 2011 May 6, Damian Carrington, “Environment action delays blamed on 'dog ate my homework' excuses”, in The Guardian  , archived from the original on 2022-08-24 : Their reasons for missed deadlines are mostly of the " dog ate my homework variety" including such easily foreseeable events as yesterday's elections and that the badger culling policy is "difficult and sensitive".
- 2014 September 12, Oscar Webb, quoting Donald Campbell, “UK Government Changes Its Line On Diego Garcia Flight Logs Sought in Rendition Row - Again”, in VICE  , archived from the original on 2022-12-05 : The government's excuses for Diego Garcia's missing records are getting increasingly confused and desperate. Ministers could hardly be less credible if they simply said ' the dog ate my homework .'
- 2017 February 18, Mia Berman, “Go West-minster, Young Mastiff”, in HuffPost  , archived from the original on 2019-04-09 : Our immune system's weak; we've been sick as a dog, missing work and school, resorting to " the dog ate my homework " excuses amidst these frigid dog days of winter.
References [ edit ]
- English lemmas
- English phrases
- English multiword terms
- English terms with quotations
The Dog Ate My Homework!
Top 5 funniest student excuses.
The Survey Says
Everyone knows that a great teacher embraces creativity and encourages it in each and every student. Many students learn this lesson quite well but unfortunately, illustrate their mastery when pressed about homework not being completed or projects left undone.
The excuse “the dog ate my homework” probably dates to the Paleolithic era when a creative student met the first dog. Poor canines have been blamed for academic failures for the next 15,000 years. While the excuse continues to be an old favorite, students today have applied their creativity to parents, families, other pets and now of course technology.
ESGI and ThinkFives polled hundreds of teachers to solicit the funniest or most creative excuses they have heard in their classrooms. These are actual excuses used by students and shared with ThinkFives.
It’s My Parents!
- My mom punished me by not letting me do it.
- My mother said “Jesus is coming soon so we better go to church instead of doing homework.”
- My mama fell through the porch.
- My dad didn’t do it.
- My nanny drove over my science project and the fruit flies just didn’t make it.
There’s an Animal or Sibling Involved
- My cat peed on my homework.
- A duck flew into the house and grabbed it with the Rice Krispies.
- My little brother hid it too well during hide and seek.
- My baby sister ate it because she still doesn’t know what food is.
- My brother was farting all night and I couldn’t be in my room. That’s where my computer is.
Darn that Technology
- Our Internet does not work unless the sun is shining.
- My mom locked me in the bathroom until I would take a shower and there was no wifi in there.
- I thought I was using the copier but it was the shredder.
- I dropped my iPad in the toilet.
- My Chromebook is sick. It has a virus.
- It was International Pancake Day- free pancakes at the IHOP.
- I had a potty battle and I lost!
- I had to get my hair done
- I didn’t want to add to your workload.
- My friend is failing so I gave it to him to use.
- It was raining.
- My brain left my body for a bit.
- I didn’t have time because I had to play with my PlayStation.
- I didn’t want “Sally” to be the only one that didn’t have her homework today.
- I kept thinking about bubblegum.
What’s a Funny Excuse You’ve Heard?
For the reason their laptop wasn’t charged for class today a student said, “We don’t have outlets at home.” When in fact I know he does.🙄😂#middleschoolers #alwaysforthelaugh
There’s always an excuse! I don’t get it. Doing my homework when I was a kid wasn’t an option! 🙄
I have to admit: “My Chromebook is sick. It has a virus.” was a very clever one. Wow, such creativity there! Really impressed!
“I seriously had full intentions of doing my homework, but then, I remembered how important you said sleep was.”
I didn’t do it because it was too easy for me..
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You and Jenny are the best bloggers out there. Interesting, original, colorful (in every sense!), fun loving and substantive! How terrific that you could come together for an interview! You are both so smart/articulate/educated and NICE!! I love everything each of you touches! Thank you, Andrea, for posting this and thank you to Jenny for sharing! XoElizabeth
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