What Does Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War Mean?

Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War Meaning

Definition: Cause chaos and release dogs trained to attack during warfare; create chaos and violence in other situations.

This expression is easier to understand when broken down into its separate components.

Cry havoc means for a military commander to give the order to cause chaos by allowing the soldiers to pillage and otherwise destroy an area.

Let slip means to unleash. In modern variations of this phrase let slip is also expressed as release, unleash, let loose, etc.

The dogs of war can have a literal meaning, which would be dogs trained to fight in war. In the modern sense, the dogs of war can simply mean soldiers, weaponry, missiles, etc.

Origin of Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War

This expression comes from the play Julius Caesar, written by the English playwright William Shakespeare in the year 1601.

Examples of Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War

cry havoc and let loose the dogs of warIn this dialogue, two employees are discussing the possibility of getting fired.

Deanna: Hey, Emily. Did you hear that the company might be making some cuts? They might have to fire 10 percent of the employees.

Emily: They’d better not fire me!

Deanna: I hope they don’t fire either of us! I really like this job.

Emily: I’ve put a lot of effort into this job, and we both work harder than any of the other employees. If they fire me, I’ll cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!

Deanna: That sounds really dramatic. What do you mean by that?

Emily: I’ll scream, shout, and throw things! I’ll make security drag me out!

Deanna: Seriously?

Emily: No, not really. But I will be very upset.

cry havoc and unleash the dogs of warIn the second example, two baseball players are discussing their strategy for the next inning.

Billy: I think we’re going to lose this game. We’re behind by too many points.

Angie: Never fear! I have a secret play that I’ve been waiting to try. Now is the perfect time.

Billy: Okay, great! What is it? I’m willing to try anything?

Angie: I call it cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!

Billy: Oh wow! What does it involve?

Angie: We’re going to do whatever we can to confuse and distract the other team. Look at this description of how we’ll do it. I printed it out on these sheets.

Billy: Oh, great! This could work!

Angie: Okay, let’s go rain chaos down on our opponents!

More Examples

This excerpt is from a movie review. They use a variation of the expression.

Rebellious impulses fester, with brutal consequences. And while the riches may prove elusive, the field yields other fruit: magic mushrooms, which the soldiers (some unwittingly) consume with gusto. Cry havoc and let slip the excesses of hallucinogenic montage, in a riot of jagged editing, superimpositions and hints of Lynchian imagery. –New York Times

This excerpt is from an article about cyber warfare.

If one rogue trader’s recklessness, motivated by mere avarice, can quietly and quickly annihilate a venerable institution, imagine what havoc can be wrought by battalions of militarized cyberwarriors implacably implementing a nation’s destructive agenda.

It is long past time for urgent public discussion of the many new meanings that can be given to Shakespeare’s “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.” –New York Post


Cry havoc means to cause pandemonium and let slip the dogs of war means set free the people or things which will cause destruction.