"screw the pooch"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 14 19:17:08 UTC 2014

Researching "screw the pooch" took me in some interesting directions.
I wrote up my findings for my Wall St. Journal column:

(If paywalled, just Google the title, "The Pedigree Of a Naughty ‘Pooch’")

And here is the longer unexpurgated story for Slate's Lexicon Valley:


Thanks to ADS-Lers for useful leads on this.


On Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 4:45 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> Wiktionary says this of "screw the pooch":
> ===
> https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/screw_the_pooch
> The term was first documented in the early "Mercury" days of the US
> space program. It came there from a Yale graduate named John Rawlings
> who helped design the astronauts' space suits. The phrase is actually
> a bastardization of an earlier, more vulgar and direct term which was
> slang for doing something very much the wrong way, as in "you are
> fucking the dog!" At Yale a friend of Rawlings', the radio DJ Jack May
> (a.k.a. "Candied Yam Jackson") amended this term to "screwing the
> pooch" which was simultaneously less vulgar and more pleasing to the
> ear.
> ===
> The unsourced part about Rawlings and May was added by an anonymous
> user in 2008:
> https://en.wiktionary.org/w/index.php?title=screw_the_pooch&diff=3939333&oldid=3503284
> Since then, this information has been repeated on numerous websites.
> While it's quite plausible that "screw the pooch" is a euphemization
> of "fuck the dog" (Green's Dict of Slang agrees), the rest of this
> seems a little dubious. Various sources suggest that there was indeed
> a Joseph L. "Jack" May who DJ'ed "The Candied Yam Jackson Show" on the
> Yale radio station WYBC when he was an undergrad from 1947 to 1951.
> And Rawlings is mentioned alongside May/Jackson in this article about
> the Chi Delta Theta literary society in the Feb. 7, 1950 Yale Daily
> News:
> ===
> http://digital.library.yale.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/yale-ydn/id/180905/rec/1
> "The chorus of the gods at dinner," as the motto of Chi Delta Theta
> requires, was sung and played, soothing the more savage breasts, by
> David Chavchavadze, 1950, "Candied Yam" Jackson and Med Bennett, 1950,
> and John Rawlings, 1950.
> ===
> Anyone have firmer evidence about the origins of the phrase?
> --bgz

Ben Zimmer

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

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