Dog-whistle

Dog-whistle is an interesting idiom that dates back decades. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom dog-whistle, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Dog-whistle is an adjective that is used as an idiom to mean language that is understood by a certain segment of the population to mean something other than its literal sense. For instance, a politician may use the term “family values” to refer to the superiority of Christian ideals–fundamentalist Christians will understand the politician’s meaning while other may not understand that is what he means. Further, if the politician is challenged, he can argue that his words should be taken literally. A literal dog whistle can only be heard by a select audience–dogs. Dog-whistle is often used in the terms dog-whistle politics and dog-whistle issues. Less frequently, the term is rendered as a verb, to dog whistle one’s constituents, or a noun, as in one asserting a dog whistle or taking part in the act of dog-whistling. The expression dog-whistle as used in reference to politics seems to have been first constructed as a simile in the 1940s to describe a speech delivered by President Roosevelt. The term pops up again in the 1980s as dog whistle effect, meaning the tendency for respondents to hear a certain idea in a polling question that the poll designer did not hear or intend. Finally, the term dog-whistle politics first came into use in Australia in the 1990s and spread to other English-speaking countries over the next several decades. Note that when appearing as an adjective before a noun, which is the most common usage, the term should be hyphenated as in dog-whistle.

Examples

Stating that Union Home Minister Amit Shah is indulging in dog-whistle politics by commenting on Muslims offering Namaz on streets, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi on Monday questioned whether the union minister was the home minister of the entire country or just for a particular community. (Siasat Daily)

He is mature enough to understand the purpose of dog-whistle politics and was clearly catering to Hindutva supporters by suggesting that Muslims won’t be allowed any undue privilege as long as the BJP was in power. (Free Press Journal)

And they’re winning too because our side is sleep-walking, lulled by the diversions of entertainment media, the fundamentalist religion of the free market, and non-economic dog-whistle issues like abortion, immigration, crime, Covid vaccines and terrorism. (Eurasia Review)