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Word Geek – barking up the wrong tree

By Hilary Picken | November 18, 2019 | Featured Word Geek

Word Geek – barking up the wrong tree

At a time when many of us are preoccupied with finding the perfect festive tree we were reminded of one of our favourite phrases!

We love using the term ‘barking up the wrong tree’, as it communicates its meaning so well. We’ve used it in instances where we feel a person has got the situation completely wrong, or if we’ve been accused of something we haven’t done – honest! It relates to making a false assumption about something and is usually used as a response to tell the accuser that they’re wrong in a nice way: “You’re completely barking up the wrong tree here!

Where does the phrase come from?

The word ‘barking’ suggests that the term is related to dogs, which in fact it is. The origin of the phrase is said to be related to canines and their hunting skills. As I’m sure you’re aware, specific breeds of dogs like the Labrador retriever, the German shorthaired pointer or the English springer spaniel have a particularly good sense of smell, which humans have often used to their advantage. Until the law changed a few years ago, dogs like these were often used for tracking and hunting birds and animals.  

Despite having excellent smelling abilities, there have been occasions when dogs have been tricked by their prey and got it all wrong. They might have been too slow to keep up with the chosen target, or may have been distracted by another sound or smell along the way. In either case, dogs have been known to falsely choose a tree where they believed their target was hiding. The dog would then bark next to the tree and alert their master to their find. Unfortunately for them, they’d soon realise that the commotion they’d been making was a little premature and they’d somehow been lured to the wrong tree.

Poor pooches!