The term "screw the pooch" means to mess up a situation, "To make a
major mistake, particularly one that will have serious ramifications."
(SOURCE: "Unofficial Dictionary for Marines" compiled and edited by
Glenn B. Knight, as quoted at
The term, indeed, originates in the military, as the site WordOrigins
explains: "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 fuck the dog and meant to waste time, to loaf on the
Fuck 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."
(SOURCE: Word Origins.org <http://www.wordorigins.org/wordors.htm>).
A British site adds that "you'll find an earlier reference in Tom
Wolfe's "The Right Stuff." He reports it as slang used by test pilots
in the California desert during the '50s, as jet fighter aircraft were
being developed and tested. The pilot who "screwed the pooch" was the
one who died in the wreckage of his plane." (SOURCE: Phrases,.org,
There are several other sites with the same explanation (such as
"Jennifer's History and Stuff" Ask Jen, October 23, 2003
<http://jenlars.mu.nu/archives/004760.html>), but nothing really
brings up anything new.
I hope this answered your question. Please contact me if you need any
further clarifications on this answer before you rate it. My search
terms have been:
"screw the pooch" etymology (and without that last word).