"Dog whistle" phrase?

All of a sudden I hear/read people say “dog whistle”.

Is this new or did I somehow miss it for a long time? It means speaking in a sort of code. Or maybe it just got a lot more popular?

The Oxford English Dictionary has media citations for the phrase (in the sense of “Polit. A statement or expression which in addition to its ostensible meaning has a further interpretation or connotation intended to be understood only by a specific target audience”) going back as far as 1995:

Rationalwiki’s entry

It gets used a lot whenever there’s an election going on. If you’re not following politics the rest of the time, you won’t notice the term being used.

It has been used a lot regardless of the season, to describe the speech of talk show hosts too.

Would that be political talk shows, or other kinds of talk shows? Not much dog whistling on ESPN’s all-day sports yak-yak for example. Someone who doesn’t follow politics all the time is someone who doesn’t listen/watch political talk shows.

Here’s an article from 2004 on the use of the Dred Scott case as a dog whistle:


You missed it for a long time.

I am not referring to the use of the term on shows themselves.

If you were aware of the news, maybe listened to commentators about popular culture, pundits, aggregators, PBS, NPR, etc. there has been talk about the use of dog whistles by these talk show hosts for a long time.

How politically engaged do you have to be to have heard them? Just that much.

Dog whistles have been around for a really long time. Using the term “dog whistle” to describe some super-duper, top-secret political code words and phrases is relatively new. They start with the assumption that the words, and phrases, must mean something other than what the speaker is actually saying.

You’ve probably noticed that the people claiming to hear these “dog whistles” are not the original speakers, or their intended audiences. It’s the opposition who hears these alleged “dog whistles”. And it’s the opposition who will gladly supply you with their version of the “true” meaning of the words and phrases in question.

For example, “States Rights” has been considered by some to be a common “dog whistle” phrase. States rights originated with the founding of the U.S.A. by thirteen former British colonies. The thirteen independent states chose to grant specific powers to a central government. The remaining powers remained with the States as rights of the states and was addressed by the 10th Amendment -
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.

Does “States Rights” mean anything other than the rights of state governments not delegated to the federal government? No.

However, over the last couple of hundred years, the rights of the state government vs the federal government has been clarified in various courts.

I don’t recognize the term “states rights” as a “dog whistle” of any kind. Other opinions may differ.

Yes, generally the “dog whistle” is entirely within the ears of the beholder.

Actually, this is a perfect example of a 1960’s-era dog whistle, although it was not named as such at the time.

Your definition of “states rights” is perfectly correct. However, whenever it came out of the mouth of a southern politician (say, George Wallace or Lester Maddox) it was a dog whistle that meant “the right of the states to segregate as they wish, and the federal government can go to hell”.

Barack Hussein Obama

So, based upon *your perception *of their politics, the phrase is a “dog-whistle” ?:dubious:

My favorite is “family values”, which sounds very innocuous (and even positive) for those not aware of the real code meaning (which seems to be almost the opposite of the apparent meaning).

(I learned a new one this election season too – “New York Values”)

“Black Lives Don’t matter” is a real dog whistle to me. That’s me though.

Mmm. . . mmm. . . mmm. . . .

It goes without saying. The whole point of the dog whistle is that the speaker knows his audience, and the audience understands where the speaker is coming from, and they can communicate obliquely. So yeah: perception is key.

Dog whistle is a term I hear all the time outside of politics.

As someone who in general has to deal with a lot of racism, I generally hear the term used to refer to racist people dancing around their nonsense. I hear it less often in political discussions than as a just general reference to poorly coded language.

Assuming that something “goes without saying” is itself a poor assumption. Clarity often requires that things must be said.

While I’m sure that the opposition knows that a dog whistle has been issued, it doesn’t seem clear that the speaker or the intended audience are aware that a dog whistle has been issued. If only the opposition is aware that a dog whistle has been issued, has a dog whistle actually been issued?