"screw the pooch"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 18 07:05:04 UTC 2013

Jonathan Lighter wrote
> "Screw the pooch" was new to me when I read it in Tom Wolfe's _The
 > Right Stuff_, still the earliest ex. in the HDAS vault.

If cites before "The Right Stuff" (published in 1979) are useful then
here are two leads.

Back in 2009 I briefly searched for the phrase and found a match for
"screwed the pooch" in a 1977 (GB date) book titled "The All-American
Boys". Now the volume is in "No preview" mode in GB and there is no
match in the book. But HathiTrust still shows a match. Below is some
text from the snippet I captured in 2009.

Year: 1977
Title: The All-American Boys
Authors: Walter Cunningham, with assistance by Mickey Herskowitz.
Publisher: Macmillan, New York
(Google Books Snippet View; data may be inaccurate)
HathiTrust Search "Gene just screwed the pooch" page 93 - 1 matching term

[Begin extracted text]
The betting in the office on the Apollo 17 crew had long since
switched - aviators characteristically do not wait for the accident
report - "That sure cinches it for Dick" the refrain went. "Ol' Gene
just screwed the pooch"
[End extracted text]

Year: 1978
Title: The Creator
Page: 64
Author: Michael T. Hinkemeyer
(Google Books Snippet View; data may be inaccurate)
[Begin excerpt]
Good if Markov brought home the bacon, and bad if he . . . what was a
good phrase? Bad if he couldn't cut the mustard, or screwed the pooch.
These Americans! They even made movies about the latter, he had
learned, which were regarded as high art among certain social circles
in New York City.
[End excerpt]


On Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 4:45 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> 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":
> ===
> 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
> http://benzimmer.com/
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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