Daily Archives: November 5, 2010


I saw quite a noteworthy dogpile today.

No, I didn’t step over it on the street. That’s not what a dogpile is. No, no, it’s not.

Dogpiles these days typically happen on the web. They’re when masses of people all jump on someone. Figuratively, I mean, of course.

In today’s case, a blogger reported that she had found an article by her published on a magazine’s website, and that when she emailed the magazine, she got a response – from someone claiming to be an experienced editor – on the order of “your article was on the web; what is on the web is public domain; you should be lucky we even put your name on it; university students do this all the time, in case you didn’t know; and in fact you should be grateful for all the editing work we did to tidy up your article, which frankly wasn’t all that great but now will be a good addition to your portfolio.”

That’s paraphrase, of course, but that’s the gist of the email this blogger reported receiving. Well. This went viral (meaning people started passing it around from one to another – do you remember that ad from about 30 years ago, “You’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…”? Well, how about “You’ll tell your 138 Facebook friends, and they’ll tell the 462 people on their listserv, and so on, and so on…”). The magazine in question has a Facebook page. With a wall and discussions that may be posted on. I took a look. Ooo. Massive dogpile. Scads of posts about the falseness and rudeness of the reply. Great big loathe-in.

That kind of manifestation of mass outrage is a new thing. Mass outrage, of course, is not such a new thing; Marie Antoinette was reported (falsely) to have said, when told the people did not have bread, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” Well. A lot of people were calling for her head. And guess what… they got it. We’re not necessarily so violent today. But we still dogpile. (And sometimes it really is a justifiable and effective response.)

Dogpiling can also be a physical thing, certainly. If you have a bunch of stoked-up jock types who, for instance, want to have a bit of aggressive fun at the expense of one of their number, they may dogpile on him: all throw themselves in a pile on him (and of course on each other). It also happens in football games and frat house fights, as noted by two early citations in the Oxford English Dictionary.

And how early are the citations? Well, I had been wondering whether this term started where I heard it first: in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where a bunch of stupid, thuggish dogs, on seeing Bugs, shout “Dogpile on the rabbit! Dogpile on the rabbit!”; when the view pans up to the top of the pile, we see Bugs jumping up and down on the top of the pile, shouting the same.

But that, although likely a very important vector for this word, is not the origin. No, the earliest citation the OED has is from 1921 (about a football game). And where did they come up with it from? After all, if you think about it, it’s not stereotypical behaviour for dogs to pile. Well, dogs, no, but pigs yes. And pig pile dates from 1880 or earlier. It would seem that dog replaced pig – probably due to the other associations pig has, but that’s a guess.

This word has a bit of a clotted taste or sense to it, I find, due to the /gp/ in the middle. When you have both the lips and the back of the tongue closed, you have a sealed chamber in your mouth – one that can have its air rarefied or compressed: put your mouth in a /gp/ position and then widen your jaws before opening your lips. Bit of a pop, eh? It’s more of a logjam than logjam. The voiced first stop and unvoiced second add to the clotting effect. Then, of course, it all opens up. But you may find that the sound of /l/, perhaps especially after /p/, gives you an little sense of layers, perhaps by association with other similar words.

Oh, and if you want to know more about the dogpile I was talking about, you might find it with a web search. Google is of course the most popular search engine now, but there was a time when there were many others, and guess what – many of them still exist. And one I especially liked also still exists: a metasearch site that searches several engines – www.dogpile.com.