3

I was reading an issue of Atlantic Monthly from 1919 and encountered the following paragraph:

"As soon as it was dark, we went. They helped us down into their trench. What a trench! More like a palace. And don't the dogs live in clover! Coffee and rum the first thing. They chattered away, but every other word was 'Kamerad, Kamerad.' Their officer distributed leaflets, very politely. We took them — why not? Most of us could not read, so no harm was done; and why should we be rude? So we ate and drank and talked, and now it was time to go home. Half an hour later we were firing at each other. Comradeship is one thing, service is another."

There is no further context, as these are (according to the article) translated conversations and musings of Russian soldiers overheard by a nurse. I'm not familiar with any English expression like "dogs in clover" or "live in clover" (perhaps "pig in mud").

It would seem that the "dogs" are enemy combatants (e.g. Germans) who are enjoying a much finer standard of living on the battlefield than their Russian counterparts. Is this expression used much in English, or is it a Russian or Eastern European idiom? And why "clover"?

7
  • 3
    This is two separate idioms: dogs for enemy, and in clover for living well, as you discovered. They are not connected. Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 17:28
  • 3
    Being "in clover" is an archaic form of being very well-off. Nowadays, an English speaker would probably be more likely to say they are "as happy as a pig in slop," or "living high on the hog." In both cases, all ones needs are being met, except in the second case, where the pig probably isn't too happy about being eaten :) Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:14
  • General Reference - to live in clover might be a bit dated, but it's still relatively common, and could easily be found in dictionaries. Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:31
  • 1
    @Affable Geek: Your American pigs really do live in clover! Our British pigs are denied such luxuries, and have to take their comfort where they find it - "as happy as a pig in shit" is as good as it gets for them! Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:34
  • @FumbleFingers That's actually the phrase I'm more familiar with, but I censored myself out of politeness. (:
    – Zairja
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:49

2 Answers 2

9

I just did some further looking. Etymonline has an entry for clover:

To be in clover "live luxuriously" is 1710, "clover being extremely delicious and fattening to cattle" [Johnson]

0
2

It is a mixed metaphor and a poor one at that.

The original phrase was 'cows in clover' relating to the fact that ruminants will eat it in preference to grass. It is traditionally supposed to be fattening for them as indicated by Zairja.

Example - Mr. Young, who keeps a large dairy for milk in that county, feeds his cows in Clover fields (2 acres per cow) during summer... Horticultural Trade Journal 1866

Dogs, to my knowledge (and I'm a dog owner), are completely indifferent to clover. As you pointed out, 'dogs' is a reference to the Germans.

0

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.