What does the saying that dog don’t hunt mean? Let’s Explore


Apparently originating from the southern United States,[1] the phrase may refer to a hunting dog that refuses to do its job.

The expression was so closely associated with LBJ that, years after his presidency, writers still attributed it to him.

Kerry was widely seen as a blue-blood, which may have helped him win elections in Massachusetts but may also have been a challenge in southern states.

Kerry threw out Clintonesque expressions in Mississippi yesterday (Clinton the Arkansan, not the New Yorker), saying “that dog won’t hunt” in response to GOP attack lines.

During a tour of southern states, CNN noted that Kerry was trotting out southern-tinged language even as he downplayed his southern ambitions:

In 1970, for example, Johnson used the expression when describing a conversation he’d had with the American ambassador to Saigon. LBJ asked the ambassador for his views on a new plan to stop the bombing in the region. In LBJ’s telling, the ambassador “came back strong and said, ‘I just can’t. That dog won’t hunt. We just cannot get that over, it would just blow everything.”

1 This refers to Robert Tyler (1816-1877), the eldest son of John Tyler (1790-1862). John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States (1841-45), and, in 1843, Robert Tyler sought in vain the presidential nomination.

With reference to a dog used for hunting game, the colloquial American-English phrase that dog won’t hunt, and its variants, are used to express the opinion that a particular plan or approach will not succeed. —Synonym: that cock won’t fight.

I have found an isolated 19th-century occurrence of the phrase that dog won’t hunt in the following from The Globe (Washington, D.C.) of Tuesday 15th August 1843:

The other early occurrences of the phrase that dog won’t hunt, and variants, that I have found, are from The Times 2 (Tuttle, Oklahoma):

2 Texts 1 and 3 from The Times (The Tuttle Times in 1907) contain numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes.

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