There are several breeds of dogs in Russia that are called “dog” (e.g., “Nemetskii dog”). In other words a dog could be called a “dog” as opposed to a “terrier” or “spaniel”. I have always been mildly curious to find out what those breeds are called in English, since they obviously couldn’t be called “dog”. (Imagine the confusion: “Is this dog a dog?” “No, this dog is a terrier.”) Today I stumbled upon a reference to “Argentine dogo” and “Deutche dogge” and it all fell in place. So, the exact translation ends up depending on the specific breed:
- “argentinskii dog” – “Argentine dogo” or “Dogo argentino”
- “bordosskii dog” – “Dogue de Bordeaux” or “French Mastiff”
- “nemetskii dog” – “Great Dane” (but “Deutsche Dogge” in German)
This still left me curious, why several languages have words that sound so similar to English “dog” yet refers only to dogs of specific breeds (German “Dogge”, French “dogue”, Spanish “dogo”, Russian “dog). Are they derived from English "dog” because this group of breeds had something to do with England?
Apparently not. Instead, German “Dogge” in the sense of “big dog” preceeds English “dog” in its modern usage. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, until around 16 century, English used the word “hound” (cf. German “Hund”) for dogs in general, using the word “dogge” for the larger dogs (i.e. the Great Dane kind). OED provides an example from a late 15 century text:
A gentyll hounde..hath lesse flesshe than a dogge and shorter heere and more thynne. (I.e. “A gentle hound has less flesh than a dogge and shorter hair and more thin.”)
It was apparently only later that the word “hound” became archaic or reserved for specific breeds, while “dogge” became the word for dogs in general. Amusingly, English then adopted a French word (“mastiff”) to refer to the kind of dog that used to be called by the Saxon word “dogge”.
So, arguably, the modern Russian word “dog” comes closer to the original Old Saxon usage than the English “dog”.