screw the pooch love

screw the pooch


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb idiomatic to screw up; to fail in dramatic and ignominious fashion


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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.


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  • EXPRESSION:  screw the pooch

    DEFINITION: “to commit an egregious blunder.” Compare "snafu"; "fubar."

    <b>EXAMPLE:</b> ' But now--surely!--it was so obvious! Grissom had just <b>screwed the pooch</b>!
    ' In a flight test, 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 that Grissom had just <i>fucked it</i>, <b>screwed the pooch</b>.
    --- 1979. TOM WOLFE. <b><i>The Right Stuff.</i></b> "Chapter 11 -- The Unscrewable Pooch." (Page 242 - 243). Bantam Book edition (ISBN 0-553-27556-9). 
    ETYMOLOGY, as reported by Wall Street Journal "Word on the Street" columnist Ben Zimmer:

    ' Last month, appearing on "Face the Nation," CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward used an expression that raised some eyebrows. Referring to the Obama administration's difficulty in identifying elements to support in Syria's civil war, Ms. Ward bluntly said, "We have royally screwed the pooch on that front." . . .

    ' Meaning “to commit an egregious blunder,” the phrasescrew the pooch” may not come up very often on news shows, but it has been piquant slang for several decades.

    ' Many Americans were introduced to the expression in The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe's 1979 account of the country's first astronauts in the Mercury Project. In the book, "screw the pooch" is linked with Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, pilot of the second Mercury flight. After a hatch accident on splashdown, Mr. Grissom insisted the error wasn't his fault. He didn't "screw the pooch."

    ' When Mr. Wolfe's book was turned into a popular film in 1983, this bit of astronaut lingo reached an even wider audience. But slang experts have thus far been unable to learn how the phrase might have developed among the NASA program's test pilots.

    ' But a prominent Nashville, Tenn., businessman has an idea. Joseph L. "Jack" May, retired president of May Hosiery Mill, saw the film when it came out and was immediately struck by the use of "screw the pooch," an expression he recalled coining as an undergraduate at Yale. He tells the story in a memoir that he published in 2010.

    ' In spring 1950, one of his roommates was an architecture student named John Rawlings, an artistically talented Indianapolis boy. Mr. May remembered chastising Rawlings for procrastinating on a final class project. "You're late, John, you're fouling up," he recalls saying, followed by an obscene reference to a dog. (The expression had often been used in the military to mean "to goof off.")

    ' After Mr. Rawlings complained about the vulgar language, Mr. May replied, "Is this better? You're screwing the pooch." Mr. Rawlings laughed uproariously.

    ' Mr. Rawlings . . . enlisted after graduation in the Air Force and was sent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. There he helped design space suits for the chimpanzees eventually sent in advance of manned space missions.

    ' Mr. Rawlings died in 1980, so we may never know his true role in introducing "screw the pooch" to the space program. But Mr. May told me he has no doubt that a "straight line" can be traced all the way back to that night of procrastination in a Yale dorm room. '

    --- 2014. BEN ZIMMER. The Pedigree of a Naughty 'Pooch'. The Wall Street Journal. Saturday/Sunday, January 4 - 5, 2014. (Page C4)

    January 8, 2014