What does the idiom "dog eat dog" mean?

The phrase dog eat dog is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of dog eat dog.

Meaning of "dog eat dog"


The idiom ‘dog eat dog’ is used to describe a cutthroat or competitive environment in which people are willing to do anything to get ahead - even if it means sacrificing or exploiting others. In other words, it means that when faced with the ambition to succeed, people may be willing to do anything, even to the extent of doing unethical things or taking advantage of other people. It can also be used to describe a situation in which people have to fight for their own needs and interests.


The exact origin of this phrase is a bit of a mystery. It may have first been used in the late 1700s, likely in the United States. It first appeared in print in a US newspaper in June of 1837 in an article about the Schoharie County Court of Oyer and Terminer. From the context of the article, the phrase certainly implies a competitive, cutthroat environment. In the United States, this phrase is often associated with the image of larger dogs eating other dogs, but there is no reliable evidence that this is the source of the phrase.


This phrase is used predominantly in informal settings, such as conversations between friends or family. It is not used in formal, professional settings, as it can have a negative connotation. It can be used to describe any competitive situation in which people have to fight or take advantage of each other in order to get ahead. It can also be used to talk about situations in which people have to act aggressively or selfishly in order to succeed.

Example Sentences

  • The business world can be so cutthroat these days - it's a dog eat dog world out there.
  • It's so competitive in the job market - it's a dog eat dog situation.
  • I'm afraid that in this economy, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead - it's dog eat dog.

The meanings of the words in the "dog eat dog" idiom

Idioms with similar meanings in different languages

"Barking up the wrong tree" is an English idiom that means to pursue a mistaken or misguided course of action. In German, the similar idiom is "Auf dem Holzweg sein," which translates to "To be on the wrong track." This idiom emphasizes the idea that when you are pursuing the wrong course of action, you are not going to achieve your desired outcome.


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