Vietnamese and English idioms related to the word “Dog”: a contrastive Analysis Student: Nguyen Le Hoang Yen Class: 4A08

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Vietnamese and English idioms related to the word ‘Dog’

Running head: Vietnamese and English idioms related to the word “Dog”:

Vietnamese and English idioms related to the word “Dog”: A contrastive Analysis

Student: Nguyen Le Hoang Yen

Class: 4A08

Ho Chi Minh City University of Pedagogy

Contrastive Analysis

Instructor: Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Vu

December 31, 2011

One problem which makes a lot of people have difficulty in communicating with one another is to use idiomatic expressions. As far as you know, idiomatic expressions make English become colorful and full of vitality, so they are often used very much in the native speakers’ speech and in the writing such as news, songs, movies, etc. on the television. However, these idioms are sometimes are not easy to understand and study their meanings, so I decide to study them by studying Vietnamese and English idioms containing the word ‘dog’ and one another reason for this topic to study is that I really like lovely dogs. In my studying this topic, there are two parts such as theoretical background and Vietnamese and English idioms related to the word ‘dog’ which is the main part of my topic.

Theoretical background
Idioms versus proverbs

Idioms and proverbs are frequently used in the daily speech, so we can not find the differences between them clearly. However, we can distinguish idioms and proverbs by basing on some criteria.


  • It is a fixed group of words.

e.g. the idiom ‘chó chui gầm chạn’ has the same meaning of the word ‘hèn hạ’ (disgraced).

  • It does not take part in the usual possible range of variation.

e.g. He threw over the traces but He threw over the trace.

  • It has the meaning which is not based on the sum of the meaning based on the individual words.

e.g. ‘chó chết’ implies ‘terrible’, not ‘the dog died’

  • It contains the feelings and the attitudes of the speaker.

e.g. ‘sick as a dog’

  • It is a part of a sentence.

e.g. Nó là đồ chó chui gầm chạn

(‘chó chui gầm chạn’ is intensified to the noun ‘đồ’ in the predicate ‘đồ chó chui gầm chạn’).


  • It is often the clause or sentence structure which expresses justice. Sometimes, subject can be hidden in proverbs such as: ‘Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây’.

  • It has a meaning beyond or other than the sum of the meaning of the individual words e.g. ‘Tốt gỗ hơn tốt nước sơn.’

  • Its logic meanings are exposed in two ways.

+ It expresses justice directly (without through actions and events).

e.g: ‘Phép vua thua lệ làng.’

+ It expresses experience, morality, comment based on an event.

e.g.: ‘Chó ngáp phải ruồi’.

  • It can stand independently with a complete meaning.

e.g. ‘Trẻ theo đạo trẻ, già theo đạo già.’

The relationship between language and culture

When an infant is born, we can find that other infants born are, in fact, quite similar. It is not similar anymore until the child is exposed to their own surroundings where they become members of their cultural group. This idea, which describes all people as similar at birth, has been studied by a lot of linguisticians for thousands of years and was discussed by Confucius as recorded in the book by his followers, Analects (Xu, 1997). Hantrais (1989) said that culture is the beliefs and practices governing the life of a society where a particular language is used as the vehicle of expression. Therefore, everyone’s views about languages are different from each other because they have been influenced by their culture. The knowledge of the language can help them improve the understanding of the culture. This brings us to an interesting point brought up by Emmitt and Pollock (1997), who argue that even though people are brought up under similar cultural situations but speak different languages, so their world view may be very different. From these given above, we can see that learning a new language and a new culture have the close relationship with each other. Therefore, we can say that the teacher of the language is also considered as the teacher of a culture. Besides, words which we use help us reflect our attitudes and beliefs, their points of view that are also those of others, so language can express cultural reality. As far as we know, each country has its own language and language is a system of signs which let us know where the speaker comes from. In short, language always accompanies with culture and they also consolidate each other.

Literal meanings and idiomatic meanings

Literal meaning of the sentence is integrally based on the meanings of component words in the way which the dictionary describes them. For example , when we say that the dog is on the mat ,this sentence only means literally that the dog is on the mat .In my essay ,we are discussing Vietnamese and English idioms related to the words containing “dog” ,so I will show you the definition of the literal meaning and the example bout it and not focus on that part very much.

We can call idiomatic expressions shortly idioms, so the meaning of idiom is the meaning of idiomatic expression. As far as we know, idioms appear very much in English .We can meet them frequently in informal style such as in films, songs on television, in formal style such as in poetry, in the language of the writers and in slang. What will happen if we speak and write without using idioms? I am sure we will communicate with each other in boring moods. To use them effectively, we have to know what an idiom is. Experts hold widely differing views on this. From Seidl and McMordie’ s points of views (1988), ‘an idiom is a number of words which, taken together, meaning something different from the individual words of the idiom when they stand alone. In another ways, the way where the words are put together is often odd, illogical or even grammatically incorrect’. Idioms will not exist anymore if we reorder constituents of them. For example, the idiom ‘kick the bucket’ will not contain its idiomatic meaning if it is re-ordered into this phrase ‘the bucket which is kicked’. However; there are also some exceptions such as the following idioms ‘to lay down the law’ (It means ‘to say with real or assumed authority what should be done’) and ‘spill the beans’ (Its mean is ‘reveal secret information deliberately’) .Both of them have passive form: ‘the law is laid down’ and ‘the beans are spilled’ which still make a lot of controversies among linguistic experts. In Asher and Simpson’s opinions (1994), they defined that idiom is a phrase of words which has a meaning beyond or other than the sum of the meaning of the individual words, e.g., throw over the traces (= free oneself of restrictions); fly off the handle (= become angry), and which do not participate in the usual possible range of variation, e.g., He threw over the traces but He threw over the trace.

Vietnam and English idioms related to the animal “Dog”

As things we discussed above, language and culture always exist together and they also consolidate each other. When we see the way of recognize one language which is affected by the history ,specific psychology of the language and community’s culture help us indentify the change of the meanings of similar words in different languages. From those things, we can find the similarities and differences based on the idiomatic meanings of the word ‘dog’ in English and Vietnamese.

English idioms related to the word ‘dog’

When we study idioms containing the word ‘dog’, we should keep a brief view about the image of dog in English cultures.

The image of dog related to the death.

That dogs often bark at night is the symbol of night, darkness and afterworld - the world of the dead. In many mythologies, dogs or dog-like beings guard the underworld from unwelcome guests such as the still-living, and they also keep the dead to which they belong. Some examples are such as Cerberus, multi-headed guardian of the Greeks, his two-headed brother, Orthrus, and the Norse dog Garm, at Hel's door.

In Welsh mythology, white hounds with red ears are denizens of Annwn, the Otherworld which is ruled by Arawn, lord of death. In the tale of Da Derga’ s hostel, there are nine hounds, and also many dog skeletons which have been found buried in Celtic graves either having been sacrificed to accompany their masters or as offerings.

According to Aboriginal America, at the time of the Walking of Creation, Gitchi-manitou sent Wolf to keep Original Man company, but after that, he ordered Original Man and Wolf to go their separate ways. (The wolf and the Anishnabe (Ojibway or ‘Western Cree’) are considered similar since both mate for life, have a clan and tribal system, have had their land taken, been hunted for their hair, been pushed almost to destruction and are now experiencing a time of recovery [at least in Canada]) The dog was given as a substitute, but since it is a relative of the wolf, it should be kept separate from contemporary people and away from sacred objects or rituals..

We will see that dogs are associated with death when they hold the role of the guardian of the Underworld or Land of the Dead, e.g. Cerberus, the many-headed hound of classical mythology. This association is an actual one. As scavengers, packs of them performed an essential function on fields of battle. Yet, perhaps by a kind of hermeneutic transformation, they are equally associated with life, fertility and longevity.

The image of the dog which exists in the spiritual and cultural life of the English said above related to the English idiomatic expressions containing the word ‘dog’. Therefore, we can see all the positive meanings, the negative meanings and neutral meanings in these things. There are some idiomatic expressions containing the word ‘dog’ have positive meanings

Expressing positive points

The personal characters and status of people

When a dog gets food or love from its owner, it often gives a wag of its tail to express that it is in happy state. Thus, we use the image ‘ like a dog with two tails’ to show someone’s happiness and delighted attitude.

  • like a dog with two tails.

  • Idiomatic meaning: delighted, very happy

  • E.g. David was like a dog with two tails when he had been chosen for the award.

The English often use the noun phrase ‘top dog’ or ‘big dog’ to talk about the most important or powerful person in an organization or country:

top dog /big dog

• Idiomatic meaning: the most important or powerful person/ country

• E.g. Yes, I am worried. Mr. Tom has been our top dog for 30 years, but he is retiring. Four of our senior executives are fighting for his job, and nobody knows who will end up as new top dog.

Ngoc is a big dog in her company.

Convenient conditions and good luck

American people love dogs and consider them as one of family members, so they always have easy lives such as sleep a lot, be well fed, be taken for a walk and play outside and got medical care when they are sick or injured. Thus, we want to say people having a life like this, we can use idiom “a dog’s life”

  • a dog ‘s life

  • Idiomatic meaning: a happy and easy life

  • Eg: My sister is enjoying a dog’s life on her Tet holiday.(She has no troubles and responsibilities and can travel everywhere ,sleep all say, eat what she wants. )

When we want to express the good luck, people often say a phrase a dog’s chance. Besides, a dog’s chance is also used with the meaning of a slight chance of getting something (often in the negative sentence).

  • a dog’s chance

  • • Idiomatic meaning: a good luck / a slight chance

  • • E.g. I have a dog’s chance of getting that job. ( a good luck)

We had a dog’s chance when we did not meet you yesterday.( a slight chance)

Expressing negative points

The personal characters and status of people

When someone who is a badly, selfishly behaved person, we also use the following idiom.

a dirty dog

• Idiomatic meaning: badly-behaved and selfish person

• E.g. His sisters called him a dirty dog because he never treated them to a good meal.

If we want to mention a dangerously or foolishly violent, irresponsible or eccentric person, we can use the following idiom.

a mad dog

• Idiomatic meaning: foolishly violent or irresponsible person.

• E.g. It has always been accepted that the Emperor Theodore was a mad dog let loose, a sort of black reincarnation of Ivan, the Terrible.

The idiom ‘a gay dog’ expresses a pleasure-loving, irresponsible fellow

a gay dog

• Idiomatic meaning: a pleasure-loving, perhaps irresponsible fellow .

• E.g. The man who is very fond of the lifestyle of Công tử Bạc Liêu is himself a gay dog.

When English people have a meeting with misfortune, sloping down both materials and character, they often uses the idiom.

(to) go to the dogs

• Idiomatic meaning: to become bad

• E.g. My dad has really gone to the dogs since he lost his job at the auto plant. All he does now is watching TV and drinking beer or in the bad situation:

When we mention someone who keeps something that they are not able to use or do not really want in order to prevent anyone else from having it, we have the following idiom.

(to be) a dog in the manger

• Idiomatic meaning: selfish person

• E.g. They seem to have a dog in the manger attitude and won’t let us have any input in the project.

Inconvenient condition and bad luck

There is the idiom which relates to implication on human relationship talks about the miserable life. We have the following idiom:

a cat -and-dog life

• Idiomatic meaning: a life of frequent or constant quarreling

• E.g. You miss a woman when she has been living with you in the same house for many years, no matter what sort of cat-and-dog life you led together.

Another similar idiom containing only ‘dog’, not ‘cat’ shows a pattern of life in which there is not much pleasure or freedom, in which one has to depend on the others.

a dog’s life

• Idiomatic meaning: an unpleasant or miserable life

• E.g. ‘That woman is leading a dog’s life in that store, fetching and carrying from morning till night.

When we say that a mess, a situation, undertaking, piece of work, room, etc., that is mismanaged, untidy, they use the following idiom:

a dog’s breakfast/ dinner

• Idiomatic meaning: a mess, a untidy room, a mismanaged work.

• E.g.: You should see your room after he had had a small party with your friends. It was completely a dog’s breakfast’.

Husbands and wives use the idiom ‘doghouse’ when they are angry at each other. For example, a woman might get angry with her husband because he came home late or did things that made his wife angry. She might talk to him that he is in the doghouse. She may not treat him peacefully until he apologizes. However, the husband decided that it was best to leave things alone and not to make more problems. He decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Thus, whenever someone accidentally forgets to buy his wife the birthday present, he is in disgraced situation or in trouble with his wife. In this case ,we can use the idiom

in the doghouse

• Idiomatic meaning: in disgraced situation or in trouble

• E.g. The man is in the doghouse with his wife because he came home late last night.

We usually use ‘in the doghouse’ with somebody who are angry with us. For example, a man is talking about an unfortunate situation at work with his friend.

A: I forgot that important meeting yesterday.

B: Yeah, the boss was not too satisfied with you.

A: I found that. I am in the doghouse at work now.

B: How do you know?

A: Well, I met him in the elevator today and he didn't say one word to me.

B: Oh, my god. You are in the doghouse.

When we want illustrate the world where people fight for themselves only and will hurt other people, we can say the following idiom

dog- eat- dog

• Idiomatic meaning: very competitive

• E.g.: ‘Mary needs a change from her dog-eat-dog way of life’.

This idiom ‘dog eat dog’ is often used together with the word ‘world’. Sometimes people say ‘It's a dog-eat-dog world’ when they have hurt another person.

  • E.g.: A:I can't believe you sold him your motorcycle for so much money!

B:‘Hey, it's a dog-eat-dog world’.

It's a dog-eat-dog world means that firstly you must look for your own interests, because other people will be looking for theirs.

  • E.g.:: ‘My school is dog-eat-dog. The students often cheat and even destroy other students’ work to get better grades’.

A comparison with Vietnamese idioms related to the animal ‘dog’

While English people consider the dog as one of the members in their families, the Vietnamese often only treat them as a kind of animals with humble position. Thus,we can see that Vietnamese people often use idioms related to the word ‘dog’ with the negative meanings such as ‘cẩu tiếu’ (laugh without any purposes), ‘cẩu hạnh’ (bad character). However, we should not disclaim the role of the dog in helping us protecting homes in Vietnamese daily life and they are considered as the animal that can protect us from evils in the Vietnamese spiritual life .Besides, dogs are also eaten during certain periods of the lunar year in the belief that this meat contributes to virility and longevity. Things which referred to help us see how the image of the dog have an effect on using idioms related to the word ‘dog’ of the Vietnamese people.

Expressing positive points

We will not be surprised that there are fewer Vietnamese idioms containing the word ‘dog’ which have positive meanings than English ones. While English people use a lot of idioms containing the word ‘dog’ to mentions the good personal characteristics or high status of people as well as the convenient conditions and good luck, we can hardly find idioms related to the word ‘dog’ which have the meanings like those ones. The only case I can see that Vietnamese idioms containing the word ‘dog’ which expresses good luck or success which come suddenly and makes others unbelievable. we can say the following idiom ‘chó ngáp phải ruồi’

  • chó ngáp phải ruồi’

  • Idiomatic meaning: may mắn và thành công không ngờ đến.

  • E.g.: ‘Hắn ta đúng là chó ngáp phải ruồi, cưới ngay được một cô vợ con nhà tử tế’ (He had a good luck that he could get married to a good girl).

Expressing negative points

The personal characters and status of people

In Vietnamese, we can see clearly that most the idioms containing the word ‘dog’ have negative meanings. When we talk about someone who is a bad and talentless one but she/he is still of high social standing; the Vietnamese often says ‘chó nhảy bàn độc’.

  • E.g.: ‘Bất tài như hắn mà cũng được làm giám đốc công ty này,thật là chó nhảy bàn độc.’

When Vietnamese people want to talk about the foolish person ,they often says ‘ngu như chó’

  • E.g.: ‘Nó ngu như chó ấy! Tôi dạy nó hoài mà nó không nghe’.

In Vietnamese, when you execrate someone, you often call that person with the idiom ‘chó đẻ’

  • E.g.: ‘Tao không thèm tiếp thằng chó đẻ ấy’.

Similarity in English, when Vietnamese people want to mention about someone who has behaved badly, selfishly, they often use the word ‘dog’ in the idiom ‘chó bẩn’.

  • E.g.:‘Bạn bè thường gọi hắn là thằng chó bẩn vì hắn chẳng bao giờ đãi bạn bè được một bữa tử tế cả’ (His friends called him a dirty dog because he never treated them to a good meal).

An another idiom is ‘chó má’ which has the same meaning as’ chó đểu’ and is used to talk someone who is very bad.

  • E.g.: ‘Chúng mày thật là quân chó má.’

When we want to say someone who is uneducated and insolent,the Vietnamese often says the idiom ‘chó láo’

  • E.g.:‘Thằng chó láo ấy nói mười câu không tin được một’ (It is better not believe in the words of that uneducated and insolent man).

In another situation, if someone is hated by others, the Vietnamese people often use the idiom ‘chó ghẻ’

  • E.g.: ‘Trong lớp ,anh ta bị coi là con chó ghẻ.’

The idiom ‘chó săn’ is used to express someone who often works for organizations which are doing harmful actions.

  • E.g.: ‘Hắn can tâm làm chó săn cho ngươi sao ?’

When we say someone who does the harmful tasks like ‘chó săn’ but acts in fearful way which can not be hidden ,the Vietnamese often uses the idiom ‘(lấm lét như) chó ăn vụng bột’

  • E.g.: ‘Bọn mật thám, chó săn bây giờ lấm lét như chó ăn vụng bột

When we want to tell about someone who is thoughtless or aggressive, the Vietnamese often says ‘chó dại cắn càn’

  • E.g.:’Tôi không thích hắn vì hắn hành động chẳng khác nào một con chó dại cắn càn.’

Inconvenient conditions and bad things

There are a lot of the poor but they still meet a lot difficulties, risks in their life ,so the Vietnamese usually says the following idiom ‘chó cắn áo rách’.

  • E.g. ‘Tụi nhỏ tôi dạy nhà đã nghèo mà mẹ chúng còn bị ung thư gan,đúng thật là chó cắn áo rách.’

In the last way of existence , someone who works everything without consideration, his/her action can described in the idiom ‘chó cùng bứt giậu’

  • E.g.:‘Sự quậy phá của Chí Phèo thứ hai chẳng qua chỉ là hành động chó cùng bứt giậu thôi.’

An another idiom is used to describe sudden attack of someone,we can say ‘chó cắn trộm’.

  • E.g.: ‘Lan ghét nhất ai chơi trò chó cắn trộm vì nó làm cô ấy không phản ứng kịp’.

When we want to express something or someone that is not useful and interesting,we can say the idiom ‘chó tha đi mèo tha lại’

  • E.g.: ‘Tôi không thích cô gái ấy vì cô ta như cái đồ chó tha đi mèo tha lại chẳng ai thèm lấy’.

Another interesting situation is that we can use the idiom ‘chó chui gầm chạn’ to mention someone does not have job and depend on others to live ,for example, after a man who got married to a girl and live in his wife’s house or live on his wife’s parents.

  • E.g.: ‘Nam đúng là một thằng chó chui gầm chạn vì lúc nào hắn cũng quanh quẩn bên nhà vợ và nịnh nọt gia đình vợ hắn.’

As far as you know , our country depend on the agriculture to develop economy, so there can not have idiom which describes lands which is very important in the agriculture. Thus, the Vietnamese people have a statement that ‘chó ăn đá gà ăn sỏi’

  • E.g.: ‘Thật không thể tin được vì ở cái vùng chó ăn đá gà ăn sỏi này đến rau diếp còn không sống nổi nữa mà chúng ta có thể trồng loại cây này.’


When our country join WTO organization, learning and teaching English is necessary for everybody. To communicate well with English foreigners, we need a lot of not only knowledge of skill but also the knowledge of English culture. In my study, I only mention a small part of English – English and Vietnamese idioms which related to the word ‘dog’ .Why did I choose it? From my point of view , using idioms related the word ‘dog’ effectively in writing and speaking help us understand the reason why we have to use these idioms to express these meanings but do not those idioms .From then, it helps me know special characteristics of English and Vietnamese culture in using the idioms containing the image ‘dog’. In my opinion, this study provide a lot of knowledge of language and culture between Vietnam and England which I can apply them in teaching English in my future job such as explaining language problems clearly through their cultures and finding the most effective way to teach English .


After I indicated the idiomatic expressions containing the word ‘dog’ in English and the comparison with Vietnamese ones, I find that the role of each country’s culture is very important and affect very much on using idioms containing the word ‘dog’. In English, there are a lot of idioms which related to the word ‘dog’ with two main meanings such as positive and negative meanings because the image of dog is the symbol of the power, night, darkness and afterworld - the world of the dead. and also one of the family members or friends of the English people .However, there are more idioms containing the word ‘dog’ with the negative meanings because dogs in Vietnam are not considered as something respectful than idioms related to the animal ‘dog’ with the positive meanings. Finally, I can not only study a lot of idioms containing the word ‘dog’ in Vietnamese and English but also understand the cultural specific characteristics of each language community.


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