What Does "Dog-Eared" Mean?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2019
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"Dog-eared" is a type of idiomatic expression that is sometimes used to describe a state of being tired or worn. The colorful idiom comes from the practice of dog-earing pages in a book as a means of marking the reader’s place, a method that over time will leave the book looking somewhat shabby and ragged. In general, to be dog-eared is to be somewhat worn out from an activity, required some time to rest and recover before being able to take on any new tasks or activities.

People can sometimes be described as being dog-eared, especially if they are currently in a state of exhaustion. For example, someone who has just completed an extremely labor-intensive task, such as moving from one dwelling to another is often exhausted from the effort. With clothing coated in dust and dirt from the move, the individual will also often appear somewhat disheveled from the activity, exhibiting an appearance that may be somewhat shabby to the casual observer. After having some time to wash and rest, the individual will once again look well-kept and have some degree of energy, effectively banishing the dog-eared appearance.


Houses may also sometimes be described as dog-eared. This is true when the exterior of the home needs painting, the lawns are growing wild, and the windows appear dirty. As long as the property has a somewhat shabby and run-down appearance, this particular idiom remains an appropriate way to describe the state of the home. Once the exterior is painted, the windows washed, and the landscaping is brought under control, the property will no longer appear dog-eared, exhibiting a vitality and attractiveness that is very different from the formerly shabby and tired look.

Even ideas can be considered dog-eared. This is often true in the business world, when owners attempt to continue using ideas and strategies that were once very effective but over time have been rendered somewhat obsolete by changes in consumer demand and the advent of newer technologies. For example, a local business may continue to advertise on local radio even though the focus of consumers buying the goods offered by the business is more on online shopping. By focusing on radio ads that no longer reach the right customer base and choosing to not put up a web site that allows consumers to place electronic orders, the business loses a few more customers each year. To continue holding onto those dog-eared ideas will often mean that the future of a business will be in peril, eventually causing the company to fail if those older and no longer workable ideas are not replaced with something more up to date.


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