There is a surprising number of colloquial expressions that refer to dogs, “Raining Cats and Dogs,” “barking up the wrong tree,” and “sick as a dog,” being just a few of them. Our curiosity is especially piqued, however, when a figure of speech uses a particular dog breed.
While the first reference to a “bulldog edition” was noted in 1926 by the Oxford English Dictionary, the term has been around since the late 19th century, and was newspaper lingo for an early morning, or first edition, of a newspaper that was printed – and sometimes even sold – the day before its scheduled date of publication. Also called a “street edition,” the term is thought to have become popular when print newspapers were sold on street corners, and competition for readers was vicious. It was a newspaper published so early in the morning that the competition was still asleep.
Film buffs may remember the term from the movie, Citizen Kane, thought to be a not-so-transparent characterization of real life publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst. The character, Charles Kane, says the “bulldog’s just gone to press,” and given that he said it close to midnight, the issue was so late that it was closer to being a very early edition of the next day’s newspaper. Webster’s New World Dictionary of Media and Communications, 4th Edition suggests that Hearst himself may have been the source of the term, but there are other theories: One vivid bit of speculation by author, Richard Weiner, hints that competing New York newspaper editors “fought like bulldogs” to outdo each other, while another source believed that bulldog referred to The hunch of columnist and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, Gordon Crovitz, was that the term “referred to 19th Century newspapers competing like bulldogs for readers, back in the day when each city had many newspapers.”
Perhaps some press editor inserted a picture of a Bulldog on an early edition to set it apart from the others. Maybe its an obscure type-setting term. We’ve heard that typos were referred to as ‘bulls,’ and perhaps earliest editions put out in a rush were full of bulls.
Our favorite word nerd, the late New York Times columnist, William Safire, an admitted language and etymology geek, confessed that he didn’t know the source, either, and if Safire didn’t know, it’s probably a safe bet that no one knows for sure.
The image is from the 1936 movie, Bulldog Edition