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Dog-sit (verb): look after a dog or dogs while their owner is away, usually staying at the owner's home in order to do so.

Example: She asked me to dog-sit while she went away.

I searched many dictionaries I had access to (e.g. Collins, Lexico, Cambridge, Merriam Webster etc.) but none of them has given its origin. Can you help me find its origin?

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3 Answers 3

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Dog-sit (dog sitter, dog sitting), as well as house sitting are derived from the 20th Century word babysitting.

BABY-SITTER - noun "someone who looks after a child while its parents are out, especially in the evening. Originally US. The derived verb 'baby-sit' is first recorded in 1947. By the 1960s 'sit' was being used on its own with the same meaning, and later in the century it began to attach itself to other objects of guardianship (mainly in 'house-sit')." From "20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999).

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This begs the question (hat tip to @nnnnnn) of the etymology of babysitter. An excellent answer is may be found at this question (hat tip to @Bitterdreggs).

Here is a salient quote from that question from Wikipedia:

The term "baby sitter" first appeared in 1937, while the verb form "baby-sit" was first recorded in 1947. The American Heritage College Dictionary notes "One normally would expect the agent noun babysitter with its -er suffix to come from the verb baby-sit, as diver comes from dive, but in fact babysitter is first recorded in 1937, ten years earlier than the first appearance of baby-sit. Thus the verb was derived from the agent noun rather than the other way around, and represents a good example of back-formation. The use of the word "sit" to refer to a person tending to a child is recorded from 1800. The term may have originated from the action of the caretaker "sitting on" the baby in one room, while the parents were entertaining or busy in another. It's also theorized that the term may come from hens "sitting" on their eggs, thus "caring for" their chicks.

Thus a dog sitter is a back formation of a baby sitter, namely one who is a caretaker for the dog or the baby.

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    An excellent answer which one? And why only one excellent answer? There are at least four well supported answers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 21, 2020 at 12:31
  • I'm pulling for the two italicized phrases quoted from Wikipedia: 1) caretaker "sitting on" the baby and 2) coming from hens "sitting" on their eggs.
    – rajah9
    May 21, 2020 at 12:41
  • This isn't that uncommon a situation for the verb to come outer a noun with -er. For example, the noun matchmaker has been around since 1638. The verb matchmake only came two centuries later, and is still quite uncommon. May 21, 2020 at 13:50
  • @PeterShor Agreed, and babysitter preceded baby-sit. But since both babysitter and babysit are in common usage, I wonder if dogsitter and dog-sit were roughly contemporaneous.
    – rajah9
    May 21, 2020 at 14:08
  • Thank you very much.
    – user385888
    May 23, 2020 at 9:06
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This is pure conjecture, but I believe dog-sitting and other phrases such as house-sitting are drawn from the phrase baby-sitting.

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    This answer needs more details and references. May 21, 2020 at 9:06
  • They undoubtedly are. May 21, 2020 at 10:16
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    This begs the question of where the term "babysitting" comes from.
    – nnnnnn
    May 21, 2020 at 10:25
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    @nnnnnn Which is discussed in the link supplied by Bitter dreggs May 21, 2020 at 11:58
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'Sit' can have different meanings, one of them being 'to hold a position', which can be an appointed one.

Lexico gives the (weirdly specific) following as one of the definitions of the verb 'sit':

"Live in someone's house while they are away and look after their pet or pets."

Dog-sit is a compound based on babysit, substituting 'baby' for 'dog', while the combining form 'sit' remains (the hyphen has probably been introduced for clarity, either to distinguish 'dog' from 'dogs', or noun from verb).
A similar case is 'dognapping', as compared to 'kidnapping'.
Many similar words are (and can be) formed that way; e.g. 'cat-sit', 'house-sit', &c.

According to Ngram, 'babysit' appeared in (written) American English in the early 1900's, while 'dog-sit' appeared in the late 1960's.

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  • If "sit" means "to hold a position", does that mean "dog-sitting" is to hold the position of dog?
    – nnnnnn
    May 21, 2020 at 10:27
  • It does not, surprisingly :) It means to hold the position of the owner of the dog.
    – Joachim
    May 21, 2020 at 10:28

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