He is someone who could talk a dog off a meat truck.

What does this idiom mean?

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    I have never heard that one, before. I guess you don't own a dog, or have never had to drag one away from food. =D I'd be more impressed by talking a cat into doing... anything. – Mike Christian May 6 '11 at 19:51
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    @Mike Christian: I usually hear "herding cats" as the epitome of labor-intensive occupations... – PSU May 6 '11 at 20:09
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    @PSU: I think the 'epitome of labor-intensive occupations' was the cleaning of the Augean stables. Which if memory serves me right, Hercules did in fact manage to do. Herding cats is the epitome of impossible tasks. Let's face it, most of us can barely imagine herding even one cat. – FumbleFingers May 7 '11 at 14:05

It's an idiom for being very persuasive. The idea is that the dog is very interested in being on the meat truck, so talking him into leaving it is difficult.

It's an example of a broad family of idioms along these lines, probably the most famous of which is sell ice to an Eskimo.

  • Man, hats off to your english!! – HanuAthena May 6 '11 at 16:54
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    I'm not sure I'd elevate this one to the status of idiom. It's a trivial metaphor that could have been re-coined repeatedly. Not in the same league as, say, Talk the hind legs off a donkey. – FumbleFingers May 6 '11 at 17:44
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    Further to which, I bet if anyone wants to do the spadework they'll find it's a relatively recent coinage that probably didn't even exist back in the days where it could have had a real-world referent. It sounds to me like a "politician's sound-bite" sort of expression. – FumbleFingers May 6 '11 at 17:49
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    I've never heard this one - and my specialty is Am. English ca. 1930 - 1965, so I'd imagine it is indeed of recent coinage per FumbleFingers's observation. That said, I like it. – The Raven May 6 '11 at 19:25
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    @FumbleFingers, @The Raven: This idiom dates back to 1967, if not earlier. You can't find it by googling because it is usually a meat wagon rather than a meat truck. See my answer for the earliest use I found with Google books. – Peter Shor May 7 '11 at 11:12

Just an addendum to chaos's answer. Searching Google books, the idiom appears to be from 1967 or earlier. In Hanger Stout, awake (1967), Jack Matthews uses the phrase

Mother could talk a dog off a meat wagon on a hot day

I don't know why it makes any difference that the day is hot, though.

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    The smell. It would be even more intense on a hot day and dogs have a very acute sense of smell. Now, let's think of something else, quick! – teylyn May 7 '11 at 0:33
  • Shor: I'm slightly more accepting of a possible 'idiom' using wagon rather than truck. The former being evocative of Old West chuckwagons, which one can imagine being raided by a dog. Not a scene I can easily picture happening in more recent times (i.e. - since the development of the internal combustion engine, which I associate with 'trucks'). – FumbleFingers May 7 '11 at 14:17
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    And an even earlier usage, from 1945, in A Man from Kansas: The Story of William Allen White, by David Hinshaw: "... a letter which I believed able to entice a hungry dog from a meat-wagon." You can check the validity of this reference by searching inside a reprint of this book on Amazon. – Peter Shor May 7 '11 at 15:35

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