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Q: Phrase meaning and origin ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Phrase meaning and origin
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: algernon_caruthers-ga
List Price: $2.50
Posted: 22 May 2004 12:32 PDT
Expires: 21 Jun 2004 12:32 PDT
Question ID: 350436
What does the term "screwed the pooch" mean, and what is its etymology?
Subject: Re: Phrase meaning and origin
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 22 May 2004 13:09 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
"Screwed the pooch," meaning "made a terrible mistake," is a
cleaned-up paraphrase that author Tom Wolfe popularized. Wolfe's book
"The Right Stuff," which dealt with the early years of America's
manned space program, used the phrase "screwed the pooch" in
describing a calamitous error made by Mercury Astronaut Gus Grissom:

"But now - surely! - it was so obvious! Grissom had just screwed the
pooch! In flight tests, if you did something that stupid, if you
destroyed a major prototype through some lame-brain mistake such as
hitting the wrong button - you were through! You'd be lucky to end up
in Flight Engineering. Oh, it was obvious to everybody at Edwards [Air
Force Base] that Grissom had just f*cked it, screwed the pooch, that
was all."

(from page 230 of "The Right Stuff," by Tom Wolfe)

The original military term (with an asterisk which I've substituted
for a vowel) was "f*cked the dog," which generally referred to
military men goofing off on the job, rather than to catastrophic

"Screw the Pooch
The phrase screw the pooch, meaning to mess up, commit a grievous
error, was made famous in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff. The phrase
is a euphemism from US military slang. The original expression was
f*ck the dog and meant to waste time, to loaf on the job.

F*ck the dog dates appears in print for the first time in 1935, but in
1918 another euphemistic version, feeding the dog, appears. The
original sense dates to 1918. Over the decades, the meaning shifted to
the current sense and the screw the pooch wording took the place of
the original phrasing."

Etymologies & Word Origins

"The phrase 'screw the pooch' itself was derived from an earlier
phrase that was quite familiar to those of us in the service in WW2. I
was a Fire Control Computer technician (Fire Controlman) in the US
Navy 1944-1946.

Anyone who has ever been in the military has spent an inordinate
amount of time in a 'stand-by' formation waiting for someone to get
the orders to start some activity. Many man-hours were spent in an
activity that was commonly known as 'Effing the dog.' [Note: They
didn't really say, 'Effing,' but I'm sure you can figure it out.] Back
home in civilian life this was cleaned up to the slightly more
acceptable 'screwing the pooch."

The LangaList

Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: "screw OR screwed the pooch" meaning OR origin OR etymology

I hope this provides exactly the information you're looking for. If
anything is unclear or incomplete, please request clarification; I'll
be glad to offer further assistance before you rate my answer.

Best regards,
algernon_caruthers-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Exactly what I was looking for.  Plus, now I know of more resources to
find out other answers on my own.  Thank you.

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