The Grammarphobia Blog

Oh, doggone it!

Q: I have a strange question. Do you know the etymology of the expression “doggone it”? Please help!

A: Strange? Not by a long shot. You should see some of the questions I get!

As for “doggone it,” the expression probably originated as a euphemism for “goddamn it.” The Oxford English Dictionary says “dog-gone” is “generally taken as a deformation of the profane God damn.”

In the 1800s, the exclamations “doggone!” and “doggone it!” (I’ll skip the hyphens when I’m not quoting a source) were used in the same way as “hang!/hang it!” and “damn!/damn it!” and even the old imprecation “pox on it!”

Where did “doggone!/doggone it!” originate? The OED says “dog-gone,” which in former times was also written as “dog-on,” is a 19th-century Americanism. But according to other sources, the expression may have gotten its start in Scotland.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) says “doggone” is an “alteration of the Scots dagone,” which is in turn an “alteration of goddamn.”

And the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, citing the Scottish National Dictionary, offers published references for “dog on it” dating to 1826 and 1828.

Within a few years of those early references, “dog gone” began appearing in writings about the American Old West.

A semi-fictional book called Life in the Far West, by the English writer George Frederick Ruxton, appeared in serial form in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1848. I found these quotations from the Ruxton work in Google Book Search: “‘Fire be dogged,’ says old Rube.” … “I’m dog-gone if it wasn’t.”

The OED‘s first print references for “dog-gone” are from a book by the Irish-American novelist Thomas Mayne Reid called The Scalp-Hunters: Or, Romantic Adventures in Northern Mexico (1851). Here are the OED citations: “‘I’m dog-gone, Jim’, replied the hunter.” … “Dog-gone it, man! make haste then!”

For most of the 19th century, the expression was found as both “dog gone” and “dog on” (with and without hyphens). An appearance in about 1860 in Southern Sketches has the “dog on” version: “No, says I, I won’t do no sich dog on thing.” Edward Eggleston’s novel The Hoosier School-Master (1871) has this: “She was so dog-on stuck up.”

Other versions appeared as well: “If there’s a dog-goned abolitionist aboard this boat, I should like to see him” (about 1860); “He looks the dogondest cuss” (1868); “I’ll be dog-oned” (1872, Eggleston again); “I’ll be dog-goned” (1879); and even “dagont” (1893).

In 1892 a writer in The Nation had this opinion: “I think ‘Dog gone it’ is simply ‘Dog on it.’”

I hope this helps.

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