history of the word ‘hot dog’


Greenwich Village fair - hot dogs - June 1917

Greenwich Village Fair – “Hot Dogs” – June 1917
photograph: Library of Congress



The term hot dog denotes a sausage, especially a frankfurter, served hot in a long roll split lengthways.

In US slang, the noun dog has been used to denote a sausage since the late 19th century. This usage is first recorded in Every Evening (Wilmington, Delaware) of 25th September 1872:

                                                           A Demented old Idiot.
A certain organist in this city, went into a music store the other day, and when one of the salesmen appeared, the following conversation ensued:
Organist—I want to get Martini’s Ecole d’Orgue.
Salesman—You must take me for a fool, don’t you? This is no sausage shop. This is a music store. What do you suppose we know about Martini’s cold dog, or his hot dog, or his lukewarm dog, or any other dog belonging to any other man? You must be crazy.

The Bearings: The Cycling Authority of America of 5th February 1892 reported that, in the city of Chicago

The Cook County Wheelmen gave a German stag last Saturday night. […] For supper abundant quantities of sauerkraut and boiled dog were served.

Sausages were probably so named because they were popularly believed to contain dog meat. Perhaps the following, from the Lamoille Newsdealer (Hyde Park, Vermont) of 22nd April 1868, illustrates this belief:

Bolognas—The fellow who perpetrated the following recipe for making Bologna sausage has evidently traveled much and thought more: “Take an eel skin and stuff it with ground cat or dog, season it with Scotch snuff and persimmon oil, lay it on a hog pen to dry and then hang it in a grocery for months for the flies to give it the trade mark.”

The earliest instance of hot dog referring to sausages sold in public places that I have found is from The Daily American (Nashville, Tennessee) of 9th February 1891 (this article does not specify whether the sausages were served in rolls):

                                                            BOTH ARRESTED.
                                   Two Men Who Mistreated the “Hot Dog” Vender.
Pat King and W. T. Brooks were arrested last night by Officers Russell and Howington for disorderly and offensive conduct. They were, it is claimed, worrying and cursing one of the little negro “weiner-wurst” boys and became so boisterous that their arrest became necessary.

The first known explicit mention of hot dog in the sense of a sausage served hot in a roll is in On The Flashing Steel: Thousands Were Skating by Moonlight Last Night, published in the Paterson Daily Press (Paterson, New Jersey) of 31st December 1892:

A new adjunct to the sport is the Wiener wurst man with his kettle of steaming hot sausages and rolls. These he retails at a nickel, and he is a very popular individual with the throng, for the sport soon creates an aching void that nothing but substantials will fill, and somehow or other a frankfurter and a roll seem to go right to the spot where the void is felt the most. The small boy has got on such familiar terms with this sort of lunch that he now refers to it as “hot dog.” “Hey, Mister, give me a hot dog quick,” was the startling order that a rosy-cheeked gamin hurled at the man as a Press reporter stood close by last night. The “hot dog” was quickly inserted in a gash in a roll, a dash of mustard also splashed on to the “dog” with a piece of flat whittled stick, and the order was fulfilled. The gamin had hardly dropped a nickel into the man’s hand before he was skimming off to join his companions. This proceeding was repeated time and again, and the “hot dog” man must be getting rich.

But the trade existed before the term hot dog acquired this specific meaning. The following is from the Oakland Daily Evening Tribune (Oakland, California) of 20th November 1880:

“Wiener wust [sic],” is a common street cry in Cincinnati, being used by venders of Vienna sausage.  These men have little stands at the street corner, provided with a vessel for keeping the sausage hot by means of steam, a box for German rye bread, and a jar for horseradish.  For five cents they sell a steaming link of sausage, resting on a slice of bread, with horseradish sprinkled over it.  The sausage is made of three parts of beef to one of pork.

The hot dog has also been denoted by the noun use of the adjective red-hot, as shown in Chicago’s Night Cooks: Queer Characters Who Furnish Food for Street Prowlers, published in the Tombstone Epitaph (Tombstone, Arizona) of 31st May 1890:

Acting on the facts given him, a Chicago News reporter selected Detective Morgan Thomas, of the Harrison street station, and at eleven o’clock started out to explore this paradise of intinerant [sic] cooks and restaurants on wheels. […]
“This class is the most common,” said the detective. “See, he sells hash, bread and Frankfort sausage, red-hot.”
“Vill de shentlemens haf some red-hots und brod?” asked the cook, as he placed his copper kettle on the curb. In a twinkling the table was set up. His wares were good. Hot, home-made hash, with good bread and butter, made excellent sandwiches for a hungry rounder or policeman. The red-hots were generally cut in two longitudinally and smothered in mustard. The merchant willingly told how he made his living.
“You see, frents, I sleeps me in de day-time, ’cause de beeblers what vants mine stock dey be sleepin, too. Mine woman, she cooks de hash efery afternoon und I cook de red-hots vile I carries dem. Lots of fellows make money mit dis business. See, in dis part I keeps de hash, and here are de red-hots. Under is de lamp what keeps de blace hot. In dis box I carries the brod and mustard. I shust valk me round, und de peoples what is hungry dey buys. Dey be beoples vhat only work aroun’ nights. Some be tieves, some gamblers, some policemen and odder ting. Oh yes, I make more money als vorkin’ in a restaurant.”

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