What does the term "hot dog lawyer" mean? I've heard this term quite a few times, and I am not sure what does the term "hot dog" as an adjective describe?

For example:

“And they usually don't have a hot-dog lawyer waiting for them when they arrive at the station.”

From the book: 'Death by Sudoku' by Kaye Morgan

Sally Yates is a hotdog lawyer who never should have been the acting attorney general.

Joe diGenova, on Fox News (with transcript of video).

He was a hot-dog lawyer from Dallas with one of those seven-figure houses on Truman Annex.

From the novel 'Air Dance Iguana' by Tom Corcoran

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    @BrianDonovan Yes, the intended meaning of 'hotdog' is the second entry. But the figurative meaning is so far from the connotations that it is very difficult (without understanding all the cultural implications) to choose the right one. Is that guy a 'show-off'? Maybe, so I can make the leap to connect to the word. But that leap may not be obvious to someone who doesn't share the culture (or the word). – Mitch May 16 at 14:34
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    I'm sure the phrase that you're hearing is "hotshot lawyer". Google Ngram offers no results for the alternative. As an aside, if you do ever grab a hotdog from one of those London street vendors, it might be an idea to have a lawyer nearby. – Strawberry May 17 at 13:12
  • @Strawberry Not every useful pair of words has already been uttered. It's not an atypical co-occurrence like 'hamburger doctor' (those links are of course arguable). But there are lots of questionable hits for 'hot dog lawyer' – Mitch May 17 at 16:23
up vote 38 down vote accepted

hot-dog lawyer

(or 'hot dog' or 'hotdog', there's no difference here) is not a lawyer that eats hotdogs or represents hotdogs in court or is made of hotdog.

This is a very figurative use of the word 'hotdog'. Here it means someone who shows off or is self-aggrandizing in an ostentatious manner.

Of course, the first meaning of 'hot dog' as a synonym for frankfurter-style sausage (from ~1890), is not particularly literal already. Its origin is obscure, but probably a glib humorously intended coinage, possibly implying the source of the meat. In contemporary American usage, that connection is barely noticed. Puns involving it are rarely so literal and usually involve a dog on the beach rather than in a slaughterhouse.

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    I did not even consider looking at Merriam given, quite frankly, I thought "hot dog" is a type of food! But clear explanation, thank you – LearnByReading May 16 at 12:49
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    @LearnByReading "quite frankly"... ba-dum tss. – maxathousand May 16 at 18:36
  • I can't shake the idea of a court made of hot-dog. I want 10 of them. – Paula Hasstenteufel May 17 at 15:28
  • @PaulaHasstenteufel What about pickles? – Mitch May 17 at 15:56
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    @Learn - I can't be the only one smiling at the irony of how someone named "LearnByReading" "did not even consider" looking in a dictionary. – J.R. May 17 at 18:00

It's essentially an American usage, so perhaps as a Brit I shouldn't comment. But I found just 10 instances of hot dog lawyer (and 4 instances of hotdog lawyer) in Google Books.

Set against a claimed 6,590 instances of hotshot lawyer (and 3040 of hot shot lawyer, which will also include those for hyphenated hot-shot), I think the only reasonable conclusion is that a few people have misheard / incorrectly recalled the idiomatic standard usage here.


hotshot, adjective (dictionary.com)
1: highly successful and aggressive:
a hotshot lawyer; a hotshot account exec.

2: displaying skill flamboyantly:
a hotshot ballplayer.


Hot dog! is a colloquial AmE exclamation usually meaning something like Wow!, Great!, That's amazing! It has no significant currency as an adjective meaning high quality, very good.


I should point out that hot[-]dog does have more extended use (derived from the original approving exclamation as mentioned above). From Merriam-Webster...

Surfers adopted it from the use of the noun hot dog for someone who is very good at something... In time, the noun became mainly associated with people who showed off their skills in sports, from basketball to skiing, and the verb form came to be used for the spectacular acts of these show-offs.

But I think flamboyant lawyers only win in Hollywood movies. In real life I'd rather have a highly successful and aggressive lawyer batting for me - if I had the money, bearing in mind it's almost proverbial that most of us can't afford a hotshot lawyer.

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    As an American, I must disagree with your "only reasonable conclusion". Hot-dog is a valid modifier for lawyers and other professions (besides vendors). – Hellion May 16 at 14:00
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    A "hot-shot" is a rather complimentary; "hot-dog" is rather derogatory. – mike65535 May 16 at 15:30
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    -1 I don't believe I've ever heard Hot dog as an exclamation outside of a 1950's era TV show. Definitely not a usage that is common in modern AmE. Hot Dog Lawyer is perfectly valid in American English. – kuhl May 16 at 15:31
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    Perhaps it's a reasonable conclusion, but not the only reasonable conclusion? – Toby Speight May 16 at 16:24
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    @TobySpeight: It's just taken me a couple of minutes to end up with 1945 as the earliest written instance of hot-shot lawyers. Which did surprise me a bit (I'd have thought it was much older), but all 10 of the instances of hot dog lawyer in my answer link are from the last decade. So maybe it is an "emerging usage" - but from my perspective it's also a "copying error". – FumbleFingers May 16 at 16:39

The term hotdogger is often used to describe anyone who is conceited, cocksure or arrogant.

While not familiar with the term hot dog lawyer, growing up in Iowa the term “hot dog” as a description was used often by the older generations (I was born in 1978). It was used primarily as a term for a “show off”. One might “hot dog” it for the camera the way one “hams it up” for the camera. It was often used to describe athletes whose brashness, arrogance, vanity, or ego would outshine their performance, such as a out of control basketball player trying to show off elite level moves and turning the ball over as often as scoring. A hot shot would describe an elite level player whose performance would outshine their ego, such as a basketball player who consistently performs elite moves without trying to draw excessive attention to one self. It was also used to describe someone who is “full of crap”.

As other answers here have noted, hot-dog as an adjective in the context of the quoted comment means "show-off" or "grandstanding" or "attention-seeking."


As for when that slang sense of the term originated, J.E. Lighter, The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1997) finds an astonishingly early instance, from 1894:

hot dog n. 1. Orig. Stu[dent slang] a cocky and proficient individual, now usu. a competitive athlete; (also) one who behaves, performs, or dresses in a flashy, conceited or ostentatious manner; a mere show-off.

[First four cited occurrences:] 1894 in Comments of Ety[mology] (Nov. 1995) 19: Two Greeks a "hot dog" freshman sought./The Clothes they found, their favor bought. 1897 in Comments of Ety. (Nov. 1995) 18: "Brown's a hot dog, isn't he?" "Yes, he has so many pants." 1899 Kountz Baxter's Letters 34: A Messe de Mariage seems to be some kind of a wedding march, and a bishop, who is a real hot dog won't issue a certificate unless the band plays the Messe. 1900 D[ialect] N[otes] II 42: {College slang:} hot dog...One very proficient at certain things....A conceited person.

The "Brown's a hot dog" quotation comes from Wrinkle (June 19, 1897), a student publication of the University of Michigan; unfortunately the reference appears in Punch-style isolation as a two-line dialogue joke. The 1894 instance of "Two Greeks a "hot-dog" freshman sought" is supposedly also from an earlier volume of Wrinkle, although I haven't been able to find that volume online.

The Dialect Notes reference is to E.H. Babbitt, College Words and Phrases (1900), which provides four definitions for hot-dog:

hot-dog, n. 1. One very proficient at certain things. 2. A hot sausage. 3. A hard student. 4. A conceited person.

However, just four years earlier, Willard C. Gore, "Student Slang" in The Inlander (January 1896) notes hot-dog as an entirely positive term (used as an adjective):

hot-dog. Good, superior. "He has made some hot dog drawings for ——."

According to Lighter, hot dog in the sense of "frankfurter" also goes back to 1895,but he doesn't see it as the source of hot dog in the "show-off" sense. Hot dog as "frankfurter" has antecedents going back to the 1840s in the form of the word dog scurrilously associated with "sausage" (as an ingredient). In this regard, Lighter cites D. Corcoran, "A Tourist in Trouble," in Pickings from the Portfolio of the Reporter of the New Orleans "Picayune" 152 (1846):

"MEM.—New Orleans is a wery wile, wicious place : they kills men there with Bowie-knives and dogs with pisoned sassengers. They berries the former holesale in the swamp, and retails the latter, tails and all, as sassenger meat. It's a 'orrible state of society!"

And to like effect, Richard Jackson, "Dutch Warbler," in Popular Songs (originally 1864), to the tune of "oh where oh where has my little dog gone?":

Un sasage ish goot, bolonie of course, Oh where oh where can he be?/ Dey makes um mit dog und dey makes em mit horse, I guess dey makes em mit he."

Leading finally to Farmer & Henley, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, volume 2 (1890–1891):

Dogs, subs. (university).—1. Sausages; otherwise BAGS OF MYSTERY (q.v.), or CHAMBERS OF HORRORS, (q.v.).

So hot-dog as "show-off" is almost as old as hot-dog as "frankfurter," and it may have an independent origin. In fact, Dave Wilton, in a February 15, 2009, posting on Word Origins suggests that the flashy sense of hot-dog derived from the idiom "putting on the dog":

This usage is probably a variation on the older expression putting on the dog. From Lyman H. Bagg’s 1871 Four Years At Yale:

Dog, style, splurge. To put on dog, is to make a flashy display, to cut a swell.

It quickly moved from this sense of suave sartorial splendor to proficient, accomplished and eventually to its modern association with extreme sports and risky action.

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