The Grammarphobia Blog

Why is a frank a “hot dog”?

Q: Do you know the etymology of “hot dog”? I presume it’s American.

A: Yes, “hot dog” (meaning the frankfurter in a bun) was American student lingo, probably originating on the Yale campus circa 1894-95.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s first two citations for “hot dog” (in the sense of a hot sausage or a sausage inside a roll of bread) are from 1900. Both are American. But there’s more to the story. It’s been the subject of some dissension over the years.

One common myth is that the name “hot dog” was coined by the cartoonist T.A. Dorgan, known as Tad, in the early 1900’s when he drew hot dogs as dachshunds in buns. Other myths are that the hot dog was first sold at the Polo Grounds, Coney Island, or the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Barry Popik and other word sleuths have found that in the late 19th century Yale students began referring to the lunch wagons that sold hot sausages in buns as “dog wagons.” In 1895, the Yale Record referred to these sausages as “hot dogs.”

If you’d like to know more, Michael Quinion’s website, World Wide Words, and Barry Popik’s website, The Big Apple, have informative entries about the origin of “hot dog.”