I frequently like to check the origins or etymology of words because doing so helps me to better understand the definitions. Because today is one of the National Mutts Days, I double-checked the word, mutt, to verify I understand what is implied by it.
I found out that this is one of those words that has evolved from a derogatory slang word, into an affectionate term, depending on context. It’s an adjective of mongrel, which is a more polite word than mutt, but less perjorative than cur. My Webster’s states that mutt is a shortened version of muttonhead. Muttonhead is a perjorative term meaning a stupid person. That word derived from the belief that sheep are stupid animals.
Mutt, in the animal sense, was first used around 1899 as a word of contempt for horses, then, a few years later, as a derogatory term for dogs.
Here is the dictionary entry:
1. an inept, ignorant, doltish, or stupid person
2. (Breeds) a mongrel dog; cur
[C20: shortened from muttonhead]
Sometime later, the word began to be used in popular conversation in a less derogatory manner. I’m guessing because mutt was used as self-deprecating nicknames by celebrities like baseball stars Mutt Williams and Mutt Wilson. There was the “Mutt and Jeff” comic strip and “Mutts” the Patrick McDonnell daily strip. There’s the military vehicle MUTT, Military Utility Tactical Truck. How would you like to live in the unincorporated village of Mutt, Virginia?
Personally, I prefer to say “mixed-breed” or “Heinz 57” when talking or writing about mongrel dogs.
I’m assuming that Mutt Day promoter, Colleen Paige, was thinking of the “cute” version of mutt when she started the two National Mutt Days in 2005. There’s one today and the other is on December 2nd.
Paige was motivated by the desire to rescue and promote mixed breed dogs. She says the largest percentage of dogs euthanized is due to over-breeding and the popular wishes of the public for “designer dogs” and pure-bred, status breed dogs. Many people don’t know that the process of overbreeding is done in so-called “puppy mills” that frequently give birth to “mistake puppies” that are often neglected.
These days, more people are prefering to adopt mixed breed dogs. There are probably many reasons for this shift from purebreds to mixed pedigrees. Most of the mixes have longer life spans, are healthier, have more variety of size and shape, and often the mixed breeds are more intelligent and more trainable.
Noteworthy is the presence of organizations founded with mixed breeds, in mind. There are Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America and American Mixed Breed Obedience Registry, to name just a couple.
If you are ready and able to commit to your own Heinz 57 dog, you can find one in a local animal shelter. Pet adoption is an ideal way to provide homes and care for animals that have been abused or abandoned by their previous owners.
Many shelters are overpopulated and are operated as “kill shelters”. This means that animals stay in the shelter for a set number of days, then, if not adopted, the animal is euthanized to make room for more animals. It is estimated that around 3,500,000 dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year. This number stresses the importance of adoption and neutering of animals.
If you already have or know a mixed breed dog, today is the day for you and the canine. Spend some extra quality time with the dog and maybe indulge in extra treats and a new toy.