Where did the expression “looking hangdog” originate?

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In ancient times, it was standard practice for dogs and other animals to be severely punished for certain crimes just like humans. Some animals were even put on trial for their wrongdoings. There is documentation of this happening throughout Europe, but mainly these occurrences were centralized in England. Records from England, and prose by famous poets such as Shakespeare, have established links to these claims.

Dogs could be put on trial and found guilty for a number of crimes, including biting humans and having rabies. The punishment was hanging, which is where the phrase “looking hangdog” originates. The term surfaces in literature as early as 1487.

Today, the phrase doesn’t only apply to dogs, but can also be used to describe a person who looks shameful, sheepish or guilty. The expression is much like a sad dog that has done something wrong. Looking hangdog could mean that a person has a downward turned face, lowered eyes, or retreats both physically and emotionally, retaining a generally sullen expression and overall demeanor.

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