"screw the pooch" (UNCLASSIFIED)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 17 23:34:43 UTC 2013

On Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 6:11 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
> Bill Mullins wrote:
>> If I search Google Books for "Screw the pooch", delimited by date from
>> 1900 to 1970, I get one hit for "Canticle for Liebowitz" (in a "no
>> preview" version), dated supposedly 1959.
>> If I search the Amazon version of the book for "pooch", I get nothing.
>> This isn't helpful to Ben's request, but it is odd . . . .
> Bill: The goodreads website has a review of the novel "A Canticle for
> Leibowitz" and the phrase "screw the pooch" was used by the reviewer.
> Why is this relevant? I hypothesize that the Google search engine is
> using this type of indirect "associational" informational to generate
> false positive matches.
> A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
> http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/34556028
> [Begin excerpt]
> Thus we see the overarching theme of Miller’s masterpiece; the
> cyclical nature of history. Miller’s moral : as a species we are too
> stupid not to truly learn from our past blunders and are doomed to
> continue to screw the pooch and the planet with our giant, atomic
> phalluses. I know, not exactly a cheery, pump it up pep talk. However,
> the tone and the narrative style are anything but dreary.
> [End excerpt]

I believe Garson's hypothesis is correct. The same thing happens
searching in Google Books for other phrases in the Goodreads review,
such as "cheery, pump it up pep talk."


Ben Zimmer

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

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