The “Hot” Dogs

“Use your words,” our mother or father would say whenever we struggled to express ourselves.

The words we use (when we can find them, that is) change with almost every generation because language “morphs.” Though never truly lost, some words might as well be extinct from lack of use. When was the last time you used, “whence,” “percolator,” “floppy disk,” “hitherto,” “thrice,” “whippersnapper” or “pay phone” in a sentence? ” Just saying.

Language changes because (figuratively speaking),  it’s alive from constantly adapting to advances in technology, the newest societal norms, and our own experiences. Personally, we find the loss of words (and even languages) tragic, but it’s understandable. If you don’t know what something was, you’re not inclined to use the word for it. To wit:

The rustic cabin featured a beautiful set of fire-dogs that added to the experience of trying to get warm.


Readers of certain generations might know what “fire-dogs” are, especially if they know about “andirons” because the two words were often used interchangeably. But given that the use of wood burning fireplaces and stoves these days is limited, if not illegal in many states, it’s no surprise that jargon associated with fireplaces would go up in smoke. Between 2005 and 2017, the number of new single-family houses built with wood burning fireplaces in the United States fell from 818,00 to 320,000.  That’s a huge drop.

So that you know, andirons refer to a pair of supports with two horizontal bars supported by short legs that is used in an open fireplace. The logs would rest on top of these bars, the open design allowing air to flow underneath and promote better combustion.  Sources vary as to why they came to be called “fire-dogs,” but there are two theories:  The first is that the name “firedog” came from the Old English word, “fyrd,” which meant a detachment of troops or a military expedition. With their upright standards and horizontal bars, andirons may have reminded people of spears used by soldiers, hence the association with a military term like “fyrd” or “firedog.”

We’re more partial to the other theory, and that is the perceived similarity of an andiron to a dog lying by the fire. 

Somewhere along the line, someone took the meaning to a more literal sense by creating andirons that really did resemble dogs:

Vintage cast iron andirons available on Ebay at the time of this writing

There are so many!

Andirons have been made to look like Bulldogs, Dachshunds, Greyhounds, Labrador Retrievers, Boston Terriers, and more.  These items are highly collectable, and for now, mostly affordable on auction sites and e-commerce platforms that focus on handmade, vintage, and unique goods. They can be used as bookends, in gardens, to display artwork of photographs, as coat racks, doorstops, or as the base of a table for the handy person.

Years ago, an elderly relative of ours was baffled when we bought an antique ice box that resembled this one. We proudly put it in our living room to use as a bar and got many compliments on it, but it rankled our in-law because in her day, it was a kitchen appliance.  She passed away at the age of one hundred, but no doubt, she would have been equally horrified to see andirons used as decorative items.

If And Warhol taught the world anything through his pop art, it was to see beauty in everyday items. We suspect Great Grandma would not have appreciated his Campbell Soup Can canvases. 

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