Dog-whistle is an interesting idiom that dates back decades. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. 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.


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)

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