An earlier question of mine What does a cat's tail do? got me thinking. When did dogs begin to wag their tails? And do any other animals wag?
According to Google, very few books have ever been written with the phrase cats wagging tails. A catastrophic two, no less. On the other hand, dogs wagging tails fetches 95 hits on Google Books, which might surprise you until I reveal how many hits ‘wagging tails’ retrieves, an impressive 5,250. But it appears that authors prefer to write stories, and tales, about our four-legged friends in the singular. The phrases, ‘a/the wagging tail’ gets 15,200 hits, while wagged its tail peaks at 74,400 hits.
So, what is the petymology of ‘wag’, as in
(Especially with reference to an animal’s tail) move or cause to move rapidly to and fro.
[no object]: his tail began to wag
[with object]: the dog went out, wagging its tail
Was it the brainchild of a writer? Perhaps it was created by a children's books author? Or maybe, it originated from a nursery rhyme.
I mentioned a children nursery rhyme in my question because I distinctly remember one called Little Bo Peep. The verse which I reproduce here, is taken from Wikipedia
Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, And doesn't know where to find them; Leave them alone, And they'll come home, Wagging their tails behind them
According to the article the rhyme first appeared in print in 1805 but there is evidence to suggest that a children's game existed in the 16th century with the same name. Shakespeare's play, King Lear also contains a reference. The phrase "to play bo peep" was used since the 14th century to describe the public humiliation and punishment given to minor offenders that was the pillory.