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Mar 14, 2017
Hugh Dellar

Phrase of the day: hair of the dog

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to see the world. It’s been one of my burnings ambitions since I was maybe 15 and 16. I guess that the first time the travel bug bit me was when I read On The Road by Jack Kerouac, and found myself hypnotised by his descriptions of bumming around the States in the post-war years. As a teenager, I hitchhiked all over the place and then the band I was in got to tour Europe a bit as well, which was great. However, it’s been teaching and teacher training that have really allowed me to see places I didn’t even know existed when I was a kid. As far as humanly possible, when I travel I try to follow the old adage that when in Rome, do as the Romans do! If this means trying deep-fried grasshoppers as a bar snack because that’s what the Thai guys you’re with fancy eating, I’ll do it. If it means not eating your evening meal till eleven or twelve at night, I’m willing to give that a go. And when I’m in Russia, as I was over the weekend, it means accepting the inevitability of vodka!

Vodka occupies a really important place in Russian culture. It helps group bonding, it oils the wheels of business and offering a shot or two is a gesture of hospitality and part and parcel of the warm welcome often extended to visitors. Indeed, it can sometimes be nigh-on impossible to turn down the offer of a drink! However, as I’ve learned the hard way, one shot can lead to another. And then another. And then maybe a beer, a cigarette, five more shots and then who knows what else! You crawl back to your hotel at some ridiculous hour and wake up feeling somewhat the worse for wear! Your head is throbbing, your throat is dry, you’ve lost your voice and you’re swearing that you’re never going to drink again.

Often, the hangover gets worse as the morning wears on. Nothing you try seems to work: coffee, Red Bull, soup, cigarettes. By the early afternoon, you’re feeling like death warmed up – and you still have four more hours of work to get through. It’s around this time that the idea of hair of the dog starts to seem like a good one – and it’s quite possible that someone will suggest that a shot of vodka may help to take the edge off things!

Hair of the dog is short for the hair of the dog that bit me – and we usually use it to refer to an alcoholic drink that we have to make ourselves feel better when we had a few too many the night before! In other words, it’s a hangover cure. The phrase originally referred to the practice of treating a bite from a rabid dog by placing hair from that same dog inside the wound! I’ve no idea if this was an effective cure and somehow prevented rabies, but a shot of vodka taken within a few hours after waking up does certainly straighten you out a bit. So they tell me.

Of course, it’s a very slippery slope – and one that ends in alcoholism if you’re not careful! It’s a fine line between enjoying a drink and needing one, and if you’re looking for a definition of when liking a drink stops and being an alcoholic starts, the exact moment could well be when you start craving hair of the dog in the morning!

One thing’s for sure, though. I’m never going to have another shot of vodka again for as long as I live. Honestly!

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  • Are any drinks particularly important in your country?
  • Do people have any special ideas about how to prevent a hangover – or how to cure one once you have one?
  • Have you ever had to resort to hair of the dog? When?
  • What things would you say occupy a really important place in your culture?
  • What would your definition of alcoholism be?

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