Etymology of 負け犬

I’m looking for some information on the etymology of 負け犬. After a cursory google search, the only things I could find were in Japanese that is above my level.

Surely there is some reason that dog was used here…



in english have you ever heard the term “underdog” before? that’s used as a synonym for 負け犬 on some sites. “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.” also this site says “dog that has lost a fight (with its tail between its legs).”


I don’t see any indication it means that from the Japanese dictionary I checked.


Do you have a source?

@Chocobozell Based on this definition, it has a literal meaning for dogs, and it’s used metaphorically for people.

4 Likes負け犬

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I’m looking for etymology here, not definitions.

Was dog fighting (and therefore, betting) common some number of years ago as the origin of this? Or maybe it had more to do with hunting since I know that some dogs were trained for bear hunting?

Does the literal definition (for dogs) I posted not show at least a possible etymology? At least one site agrees with that.

「負け犬」は勝負や試合に負けてすごすごと引き下がる人の惨めな様子の例えとして使われます。「負け犬」の語源はその言葉の通り、 喧嘩に負けて逃げる犬の様子 から来ています。

By the way, I just googled 負け犬語源 to find that.


There is the longer expression 負け犬の遠吠え which is commonly used I’m told, though I can’t recall it before (though looks very useful :slightly_smiling_face:)

Nonetheless, looks like a biting old school Japanese slam that’s pretty funny so I’m guessing it may have come from this and 負け犬 is just the short ‘loser’ form.負け犬の遠吠え

Maybe dog fighting was a thing and being the loser of something got associated with dogs losing fights. Just an hypothesis but you could probe google for it.

Nothing of value to contribute here, I just find it interesting that I was trying to figure this out with my cousin a few days ago too. I really want a solid, evidence backed-up answer.

Words are so interesting!

Since OP indicated not being confident in their Japanese skills, it might be a good idea to post a translation too :sweat_smile:

In this case, OP, the part you are interested in is the last sentence @seanblue posted:

the word 負け犬 came, as the word literary means, from the appearance of a dog/dogs running away after losing a fight.


負け犬 is mainly used in the context of a woman who hasn’t gotten married, and is now too old to find a desirable partner, I’ve been told. Very derogatory, so I wonder if it didn’t come to refer to women in the same kind of thought process as bitch does often refer to women instead of dogs.

Oops, I didn’t notice. :sweat_smile:

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What? I’ve never heard of that use. It’s also not in my dictionary. Is that a regional thing/slang?

Edit: found it, it’s from the book “負け犬の遠吠え”. That’s a derivative of the original meaning in that case.

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It’s the second definition in負け犬

Context is it comes from a 2003 essay specifically defining it in the cultural context as a woman over 30 who is unmarried and also has no children.

Etymologically, Japanese Wikipedia explains this as the dog being subservient to humans, so will never go against them. In this way 負け犬 is also “lesser” than the presumed human on the other side of the dichotomy.負け犬


I as well have heard it in dramas and such used to mean an unmarried woman after a certain age. Interesting to think about the origin of the phrase!


Yes, considering it’s slang and I’m not very good with that, I probably came across that usage too and just didn’t realize. (I doesn’t help that monolingual dictionaries tend to avoid slang too)


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