"screw the pooch"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Dec 18 18:38:15 UTC 2013

On 12/17/2013 4:45 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      "screw the pooch"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Wiktionary says this of "screw the pooch":
> ....
> Anyone have firmer evidence about the origins of the phrase?

No real evidence, just an imperfect memory. Around 1967-70, I heard
routinely "f*ck the dog", and I also heard a variety of frivolous
equivalents. The only one I remember for sure is the peculiar
"intercourse the canine". Other ones surely had "screw" and "mutt" but I
can't remember exactly which combinations I heard. I don't remember
whether "screw the pooch" was among these or not, but even if it wasn't
I suppose it likely occurred on the same basis somewhere, then or
earlier. I don't know which of these phrases had how much currency. All
of them however meant (as I understood them) "goof off" or "do nothing"
rather than "make a blunder" (i.e., = "f*ck off" rather than "f*ck up",
some might say).

When I heard "screw the pooch" clearly meaning "make a big blunder" or
so, much later, perhaps 1990 or so, I remember I was surprised by the
meaning but not by the words employed, so I suppose I had heard "screw
the pooch" = "goof off" at some point.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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