In Cambridge Dictionary, The Free Dictionary, Merriam Webster, dictionary.com and The Britannica Dictionary, none say that 'watchdog', under the definition quoted below, is derogatory or disapproving.

watchdog: a person or organization responsible for making certain that companies obey particular standards and do not act illegally

But the objectification here, comparing those people or organisations to a dog, make me feel like it's derogatory. To me, it sounds like a word you would probably use to refer to Gestapo or the like. Does a native speaker have this feeling too?

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    No, "watchdog" is not derogatory. On the other hand, calling someone a "snitch", a "rat", a "nark", would all be considered disapproving or derogatory. In this case I don't think it's the fact that it's an animal or not which makes the label disapproving. In fact, the word "nark" originally comes from "narcotics officer" which is clearly a label of a person. In the course of usage (and perhaps in the course of public opinion), the label began to be used generally for anyone who is watching out for any kind of regulations violations, but the label itself is disapproving (IMO).
    – Brandin
    Dec 16, 2022 at 10:55
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    @Brandin - In Britain and the USA, a 'copper's nark' was an informer or 'snitch' long before any drug culture Nark: 1860 in Hotton Slang Dict. (ed. 2) 179. 1894 A. Morrison Mean Streets 260 He resolved to‥become a nark—a copper's nark—which is a police spy or informer. Oxford English Dictionary. Etymology Online gives Nark 1859: "to act as a police informer" (verb) probably from Romany nak "nose," from Hindi nak, from Sanskrit nakra, which probably is related to Sanskrit nasa "nose". Dec 17, 2022 at 13:02

1 Answer 1


No, 'watchdog' in this kind of context does not have a negative connotation. If anything, they are seen as a positive thing, as it boosts public confidence to know that such a body exists to maintain standards.

For example, in the UK we have government departments monitoring things like the standard of education in schools, and food safety standards in restaurants. Many people rely on the reviews of such bodies to make choices on these things.

  • +1 And to add that we almost only use the term "watchdog" to refer to people or organizations with these duties --rarely or never actual dogs-- so the word "watchdog" doesn't feel like a comparison with dogs. It's just a word for humans or human organizations. We use "guard dog" to describe real dogs with the duty of protecting property.
    – gotube
    Dec 16, 2022 at 18:25
  • @gotube “The Belgian Malinois is an exceptional watchdog,” she adds. “Vigilant yet responsive, they balance all the qualities needed in a stock dog, protector, and sensible working partner.” Anne MacKay, former vice president and over 25-year member of the American Belgian Malinois Club Dec 16, 2022 at 21:12
  • @gotube - Once a watchdog barked while Larry was sitting in the lighted window of the Cosmopolitan bar in Nicosia having a late evening drink Lawrence Durrell: A Biography - Ian S MacNiven (2020). Dec 16, 2022 at 21:15

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