and whenever she heard a large word she said it over to herself many times, and so was able to keep it until there was a dogmatic gathering in the neighborhood, then she would get it off, and surprise and distress them all, from pocket-pup to mastiff, which rewarded her for all her trouble.

From A Dog's Tale by Mark Twain.

Is it safe to assume that dogmatic in this context has nothing to do with dogma? Also, does the word distress mean "impress" here?

  • 2
    Then it's likely a play on words, so I suggest you look up "dogmatic" in the dictionary
    – Dodgie
    Nov 30, 2013 at 7:29
  • 2
    dogmatic: opinionated, peremptory, assertive, insistent, emphatic, adamant, doctrinaire, authoritarian, imperious, dictatorial, uncompromising, unyielding, inflexible, rigid; More, but nothing to do with religion, nor with dogs.
    – Kris
    Nov 30, 2013 at 7:42
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    With respect to all those who have suggested a dictionary, I can well appreciate that @Hamed has gone that route. No dictionary will explain this particular use as it is a play on words. Mark Twain is writing about 'dogs'. A 'dogmatic gathering' I suspect may have had a particular meaning in America, at the time of MT. The ODE doesn't even touch the expression.
    – WS2
    Nov 30, 2013 at 7:44
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    Hamed – please (briefly) indicate any research you've already done in the question, to save answerers wasting time covering the same ground. And please ask one question at a time. Nov 30, 2013 at 8:29
  • 3
    RE: I have dozens of dictionaries and I look up words in them all the time .. when I put a question here, I'm usually desperate for answer. When you put a question here, you should include some of those definitions. Why? (1) It shows you've done your own research; (2) it makes your question easier to answer; (3) it makes your question more interesting to the community. It helps to what you've already discovered and why you're still confused. It wouldn't hurt to perhaps a few more words about the source, too. Don't assume everyone here has read it.
    – J.R.
    Nov 30, 2013 at 10:28

2 Answers 2


I think Twain is having a little fun here, using a "large word" in the same way that the character he is writing about would use it; that is, in a place where it sounds like it might or should make sense but really is completely inappropriate.

The character in question being a dog, she does not actually understand the large words she is throwing about. Such a being might well assume that "dogmatic" means "related to dogs", and therefore would use the phrase "dogmatic meeting" to mean a bunch of dogs getting together to talk about things.

As to the second portion of the question, I see no reason to think that the current meaning of distress is inappropriate in some way; the other dogs in the meeting could easily be distressed by this dog's repeated use of sesquipedalian vocabulary to establish dominance.


I don't think this phrase means anything more than the words suggest:

dogmatic — asserting opinions in a doctrinaire or arrogant manner; opinionated.

A "dogmatic gathering" would be a gathering where opinions are asserted in an arrogant manner.

In other words, the character remembers large words and uses them when everyone gathers in the yard to argue with each other.

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