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I'm referring to this expression.

I didn’t say a dinner for your dog. I said ‘a dog’s dinner’. We use this expression, ‘a dog’s dinner’ to describe a complete mess. Which is why I said the kitchen looks like a dog’s dinner.

What does a dog's dinner have that a (human) vegetable minestrone doesn't have?

I guess it's an expression older than dry food for dogs, which looks less messy than the level of messiness the expression seems to convey?

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    Dog's dinner/breakfast. Dogs are notorious for being willing to eat anything, no matter how mixed-up and unappetising. Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 9:12
  • @KateBunting In the accountancy profession where I spent my working career, these expressions were most often applied to a set of books and financial records that had got into a complete muddle. But "a pig's breakfast" I've always considered even more emphatic than a dog's.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 14:57

1 Answer 1

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Just to confuse matters, 'the dog's dinner' can mean different, possibly contrasting things.

According to phrases.org, a dog's dinner means overdressed, or dressed in a garish, tasteless manner.

By contrast, the free dictionary says it means a poor piece of work; a mess.

British English slang is highly inconsistent. For example, the (vulgar) word 'bollocks' can mean that something is both great (eg it's the bollocks) or terrible (eg it's a load of bollocks). In US English, the vulgar word 'shit' is similarly used both ways (eg it's shit, or it's the shit).

Regarding the origins of "a dog's dinner", it seem pretty clear that it refers to the fact dog food looks, and probably tastes, unappetising to humans. So whether you mean it to say something looks bad, tasteless, or whatever else you could say about literal dog food, the consistent thing is that it is not complimentary.

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  • In my locale (UK) if someone is got up like a dog's dinner, they are overdressed. People sometimes call a messy or poorly planned piece of work a dog's breakfast, and if someone thinks a lot of himself you might say he thinks he is the dog's bollocks. Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 10:12
  • @MichaelHarvey 'The dog's bollocks' is another unrelated saying, though. I only mentioned 'bollocks' in my answer as an example of how slang can have conflicting meanings in both British and American English so it shouldn't be surprising that 'dog's dinner' is similar. I think that any difference between 'dinner' and 'breakfast' is not going to be found to have supporting evidence and so is moot for the purpose of this question.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 12:04
  • That's me telt, and no mistake! Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 12:06

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