Dog Whistle – Idiom, Origin & Meaning in English

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Let’s hunt down the elusive idiom dog whistle. Now, I know this phrase can be both literal and figurative. However, we are only interested in its idiomatic version in this guide. Once you understand its meaning, you’ll be using it all the time! Ready? Let’s fetch some knowledge!

Dog Whistle Meaning as an Idiom

Dog Whistle – Idiom Origin Meaning in English

When you hear the phrase dog whistle, you might be thinking about the device used for training dogs, right? But if you’re expecting a piece about pooches, I hate to burst your bubble.

As an idiom, a dog whistle refers to subtly coded messages or signals intended to be understood by a specific group but not immediately apparent to the general population.

A great example is in politics. A dog whistle might be a phrase or speech subtly coded to appeal to a certain demographic without directly addressing them. This allows the speaker to deny any specific intent if confronted.

Punctuating This Phrase

If used as a noun, you’d spell it as two words, like the exceedingly high-pitched whistle for dogs. But if you’re using it as an adjective before a noun, you should hyphenate it.

Origin of the Idiom Dog Whistle

Dog Whistle Ngram
Dog whistle usage trend.

Like a real dog whistle, the idiomatic usage of dog whistle operates on a frequency only certain folks can hear. This phrase originated in the realm of Australian politics in the 1990s. It was used to describe political messaging that, while seemingly neutral or benign on the surface, carried hidden implications designed to appeal to certain voters.

But it also carries a darker origin, one connected to slavery and racism. Originally, it came about when discussing slave catchers and how they’d use hunting dogs to find and capture runaway slaves. Today, the term is used idiomatically to describe people, usually public figures, spewing off certain terms to attract the wrong audience.

Synonyms for the Idiom Dog Whistle

Want to communicate a similar idea but in a different way? Try one of these phrases on for size!

  • Coded language
  • Loaded language
  • Double entendre
  • Cloaked message
  • Subliminal message

Dog Whistle Examples in a Sentence

Dog Whistle – Idiom Origin Meaning in English 1
  • The politician’s remarks were a dog whistle for his base, but they flew over everyone else’s heads.
  • The use of the term “family values” in the speech was a dog whistle aimed at conservative voters.
  • Her tweet was a dog whistle for her fans who were eagerly awaiting her new album announcement.
  • The advertisement used a dog whistle to appeal to environmentally conscious customers.
  • The candidate’s dog-whistle messages on immigration were understood by his core supporters.
  • His use of the phrase “tough on crime” was a dog whistle to those worried about urban safety.
  • In a world of 24/7 news, political dog-whistle phrases are more common than ever.
  • Many marketing strategies include dog-whistle language to target specific demographics.
  • Despite its widespread use, dog-whistle politics is often seen as manipulative and divisive.
  • The professor discussed the concept of dog-whistle racism in her sociology lecture.

Can You Hear That?

And there we have it! You’ve successfully tracked down the meaning and usage of the idiom dog whistle. So, keep your ears pricked for those subtly coded messages. They’re more common than you might think, and identifying them will certainly make you a more discerning listener!