See a man about a dog and see a man about a horse are two versions of an idiom that came into use in the mid-1800s. We will examine the meaning of the phrases see a man about a dog and see a man about a horse, where they came from, and some examples of their use in sentences.
The idioms see a man about a dog and see a man about a horse are phrases someone uses when excusing himself from polite company for a short time. Most often, see a man about a dog and see a man about a horse are euphemisms used when one is going to relieve himself at the toilet; however, they are sometimes used to mean that someone is going to buy alcohol or an alcoholic drink. A euphemism is a word or phrase that is used to indicate a concept that is embarrassing or otherwise too sensitive to refer to plainly and bluntly. The expression see a man about a dog was first used in the play The Flying Scud, which was written by Dion Boucicault in 1866. The phrase see a man about a horse came into use soon after as a variant.
My grandfather would join us after he been “to see a man about a dog”. (The Irish Times)
The 1920s was the era that utilized the powers of misdirection: “I have to go see a man about a dog” was code for “I’m going to go buy alcohol.” (The West Virginia Gazette Mail)
We’d be going along on the forest trail when all of a sudden John would veer off into the trees, saying, “I’m off to see a man about a horse.” (The Ventura County Reporter)
“I’m gonna have to see a man about a horse pretty soon.” (The Texas Standard)