Odd expression: "screw the pooch" = get things all fouled up

Rachel E. Shuttlesworth rshuttle at BAMA.UA.EDU
Wed Jul 21 14:39:45 UTC 2004

My favorite example of this saying comes from the film "Stand By Me",
based on a short story by Stephen King. Teddy says, "Gordy screwed the
pooch", I think. I'm not sure if the expression is in the book, too, but
I seem to remember the events are supposed to be set in the late 50s or
early 60s. I also think it's in the film The Right Stuff based on Tom
Wolfe's book.

Gerald Cohen wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Gerald Cohen <gcohen at UMR.EDU>
> Subject:      Odd expression: "screw the pooch" = get things all fouled up
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Yesterday I watched an episode of "Law on Order" and was surprised to
> hear one of the detectives refer to someone who "screwed the pooch",
> i.e., got something all fouled up. I had never come across this
> expression before but find it on Google, e.g. "screwed the pooch on
> Iraqi intelligence."
>     Jonathon Green's _Cassell's Dictionary of Slang_ dates it from the
> 1960's, with a few variants. There doesn't seem much doubt that the
> original reference was to bestiality, but how did this extend to "get
> things all fouled up"?
>     Back to Google: http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Kitty_20Pager
> where someone named "angel" wrote on Aug. 15, 2002:
> "A cursory trip through Goooooooogle reveals that it's slang used by
> test pilots in the '50's.  To screw the pooch is to be in an aircraft
> when it crashes.  More widely, it is to fail in a spectacular manner.
> As to etymology, dunno."
>     I'll check a glossary of airforce lingo in a few days.  Would
> anyone on ads-l have anything to add?
> Gerald Cohen


Rachel E. Shuttlesworth
CLIR Post-Doctoral Fellow
University of Alabama Libraries
Box 870266, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0266
Office: 205.348.4655/ Fax:205.348.8833
rachel.e.shuttlesworth at ua.edu

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