Thursday, January 26, 2023

What "Hit Dog Will Holler" REALLY Means (with a focus on Andrew Gillum's use of that saying in a 2018 Florida gubernatorial debate)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part pancocojams series about what I believe is an African American originated saying "A hit dog will holler."

This post presents information about the origins and meaning of the saying "Hit dog will holler", with special focus on Andrew Gillium's use of that saying in a 2018 Florida gubernatorial debate with Ron DeSantis. 

Click for Part II of this pancocojams series. That post showcases a YouTube vlog and selected comments about the use of the saying "Hit dog will holler" in a January 2023 discussion thread that was prompted by French actor Omar Sy's comment that a attention should be focused on other war zones and not just Ukraine

Click __ for Part III of this pancocojams series. That post showcase the 2017 song "Hit Dawg Will Holla" by the African American duo "The War And Treaty".

The content of this post is presented for linguistic and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These quotes are presented in no particular order. Numbers are added for referencing purposes only.

From What does the phrase “a hit dog will holler” mean?

1.Clifton Palmer McLendon, 2018
When a general accusation is made, a guilty party will complain.

My father of blessed memory was a radio announcer. Occasionally his program included playing records.

On occasion, he would say “This next song is dedicated to anyone that needs it" and he would play the Hank Williams song “Mind Your Own Business.”

Always over the next several days various people would complain “Why did you embarrass me on the radio for everyone to hear?” "

2. Sue Doenymme, 2018
"Clifton Palmer McLendon's answer to What does the phrase “a hit dog will holler” mean? strikes me as spot-on: if an accusation is thrown out, the one to complain about it will be someone who feels attacked - and assumed guilty as charged.

I know this phrase actually from German - der getroffene Hund bellt. I have never heard of it in an English equivalent… the phrasing strikes me as coming from the Southern US.

A phrase I am familiar with in British English which might be equivalent: if the cap fits, wear it."

From “A hit dog will holler”: Here’s What It Really Means, Posted on January 8, 2021

 …."What does “a hit dog will holler” mean?

“A hit dog will holler” refers to the idea that people offended by a certain idea or statement will be the ones most likely to react defensively or even aggressively to it. In fact, in some cases, if someone makes an accusation, the individual who reacts most vehemently is likely the most guilty of said accusation. In other words, their reaction can be construed as an admission of guilt.


What does a “hit dog” mean?

Calling someone “a hit dog” started back at the end of the nineteenth century, sometime around the 1880s. In fact, The Washington Post asserted that the first one to use the proverb, “a hit dog will holler,” was Samuel Porter Jones, who was a lawyer-turned pastor and preacher.

As a matter of fact, Jones was known to use a larger version of the proverb, which said, “throw a stone into a crowd of dogs, and the hit dog will holler.”

Hence, this is where the idea of “a hit dog” comes from. It’s the dog that got hit by the stone. And, once you understand this context, it becomes even clearer where the expression derives its meaning.

“Throw a stone” can be interpreted as making an accusation or saying an inflammatory statement.

And, the “hit dog” will be the one who feels that the accusation was directed at them or that the inflammatory statement was meant for them, both of which can be considered as signs of a guilty conscience.


…“a hit dog will holler” really gained prominence in 2018 when it was used in the Florida gubernatorial election. The story is that Democrat Andrew Gillum was going up against Republican Ron DeSantis.

Now, while Gillum was vying to be Florida’s first black governor, DeSantis had been accused on multiple occasions of having associations with racist organizations.

When this came up in the middle of one of their debates, and when DeSantis was called out for his associations, he reacted emotionally and vehemently.

He started going on a tirade, trying to defend himself, but it came across as him floundering more than anything else. In response to this emotional defense, Gillum said, “ My grandmother used to say: a hit dog will holler.”

Basically, what Gillum is saying is that DeSantis’s emotional reply is proof of his guilt.

Naturally, you can imagine that it didn’t take long for Twitter and the media to pick up this story and spread it like wildfire.”…
Click for a YouTube video of the exchange between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum.
I've come across a number of online comments -and one song that is showcased in Part III of this pancocojams series- that give the saying "Hit dog will holler" as "My grandma said "A hit dog will holler".

I believe the "grandmother" ("grandma")  form of that saying predates Gillum's use of it.  As such, I believe that Gillum may have actually been quoting that form of the saying, meaning he wasn't speaking about his actual grandmother, but quoting an old saying that was/is part of African American culture.  

From In Florida, an old proverb used by Gillum to suggest DeSantis habors racist views, Isaac Stanley-Becker | The Washington Post, published Oct 26, 2018
"An explosive moment at a Wednesday debate, which spotlighted the racial dynamics in the contest over the Florida governorship, became an occasion for Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate and the mayor of Tallahassee, to quote his grandmother.

"My grandmother used to say, 'a hit dog will holler,' and it hollered through this room," Gillum said, reacting to the defense mounted by his Republican opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, to the accusation of racism.

It was an elliptical way of stating what he would affirm a different way 40 seconds later.

"I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist," Gillum concluded. "I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist."

Gillum blasted out his grandmother's saying, with video of his delivery, in a tweet that had drawn more than 73,000 likes by early Thursday morning.

Notice that the title of this article describes "My grandmother used to say 'a hit dog will holler" as "an old proverb". This title supports my position that Andrew Gillum was quoting a folk saying and not referring to his actually referring to his own grandmother. However, at the end of that article the writer of that article reverted back to the assumption that Gillum got this saying from his actual grandmother rather than from Black folk culture.

Using the word "grandmother" in that saying marks it as something old.  Indicating that "My grandmother used to say ' a hit dog will holler" came from an old person also conveys the notion that it's a wise saying, since old people are supposed to be wise. 

This concludes Part I of this three part pancocojams series.

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