Screw the Pooch: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 22, 2023

The phrase "screw the pooch" means to badly or completely mess something up. Typically, it refers to making an egregious mistake or error that results in failure or severe consequences.

In short:

"Screw the pooch" typically means to make a significant mistake or blunder.

What Does “Screw the Pooch” Mean?

"Screw the pooch" is a colloquial expression often used to indicate that someone has made a significant blunder. The phrase expresses the idea of making a big mistake or messing something up badly.

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • "Screw the pooch" means to make a severe error or to mishandle a situation.
  • It's often used when discussing an oversight or mistake that has notable consequences. For example, "He really screwed the pooch by forgetting to save his work before the power outage.
  • The origin of this idiom is somewhat unclear, but it gained widespread popularity in the U.S. during the 20th century, especially within the military and aerospace industries.
  • Synonyms for "screw the pooch" are "drop the ball," "make a blunder," and "mess things up."

Where Does “Screw the Pooch” Come From?

This phrase is a more polite version of the cruder expression, "f*ck the dog (and sell the pups)." The term "f*ck the dog" dates back to at least 1935 and originally meant "to loaf around." An even earlier, more polite version, "feed the dog," appeared in the 1910s, signifying "loafing around." In this context, "dog" symbolizes laziness. By the 1960s, the vulgar expression evolved to mean making a blunder, possibly originating as World War II slang.

The phrase "screw the pooch" gained widespread recognition due to the 1979 book-turned-movie, "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe. This work, based on the Mercury Seven space program of the 1960s, depicted characters frequently using "screw the pooch," reflecting the actual NASA jargon and slang of that era.

Historical Usage

Radio DJ Jack May, also known as "Candied Yam Jackson," has claimed that he transformed "f*ck the dog" into "screw the pooch." According to May, he began using this phrase in the spring of 1950 after a friendly disagreement with his college roommate, John Rawlings. Notably, Rawlings collaborated with NASA in designing prototype space suits for chimpanzees used in test flights.

10 Examples of “Screw the Pooch” in Sentences

Here are some examples that showcase the versatility of the idiom:

  • I really screwed the pooch by forgetting her birthday.
  • If we don't deliver on time, we'll screw the pooch on this contract.
  • He screwed the pooch when he lost the company's confidential files.
  • They had one job to do, and they screwed the pooch.
  • She didn't study for the test and screwed the pooch.
  • We can't afford to screw the pooch on this project.
  • He really screwed the pooch by not checking the equipment before the presentation.
  • They screwed the pooch when they decided to go against the boss's orders.
  • She knew the risks but still screwed the pooch.
  • If you keep procrastinating, you're going to screw the pooch.

Examples of “Screw the Pooch” in Pop Culture

The idiom has made its mark in various media over the years:

  • The Right Stuff, a book by Tom Wolfe, brought the phrase into the limelight.
  • The 1995 film "Apollo 13," directed by Ron Howard, uses the phrase "screw the pooch," based on the real-life events of the Apollo 13 mission.
  • "From the Earth to the Moon": This HBO miniseries, which chronicles the history of the U.S. manned space program from the Mercury era through the Apollo lunar missions, also uses the phrase.
  • Various late-night talk shows have mentioned the phrase, highlighting its broad recognition.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say “Screw the Pooch"

There are several other ways to convey the same sentiment:

  • Drop the ball
  • Blow it
  • Mess up
  • Make a blunder
  • Fumble
  • Goof up
  • Bungle
  • Botch things up
  • Make a hash of it
  • Slip up

10 Frequently Asked Questions About “Screw the Pooch”:

  • What does "screw the pooch" mean?

It means to make a significant mistake or blunder.

  • Where did the phrase originate?

The exact origins are unclear, but it gained popularity in the 20th century, especially after being used in Tom Wolfe's book "The Right Stuff."

  • Is it appropriate to use in formal settings?

It's best to avoid using it in formal or professional settings as it might be considered informal or colloquial.

  • Can it be used in positive contexts?

Generally, the phrase is used to denote mistakes, so it's typically used in negative contexts.

  • Are there other idioms with similar meanings?

Yes, idioms like "drop the ball" and "mess up" convey similar sentiments.

  • How often is it used in pop culture?

It has been referenced in various books, TV shows, and movies, indicating its widespread recognition.

  • Is the phrase used internationally?

While it's primarily an English idiom, its meaning might be understood by those familiar with English idioms in other countries.

  • Why is the word "pooch" used in the idiom?

The exact reason is unclear, but "pooch" is a colloquial term for a dog, adding a quirky element to the phrase.

  • Does the phrase have anything to do with dogs?

Not directly. While "pooch" is a term for a dog, the idiom doesn't relate to dogs in its meaning.

  • How can one avoid "screwing the pooch"?

By being careful, attentive, and avoiding negligence in one's actions and decisions.

Final Thoughts About “Screw the Pooch”

The phrase "screw the pooch" refers to making a significant mistake or blunder, especially one that results in negative consequences. It signifies a notable error, often one that was avoidable.

To recap:

  • The phrase "screw the pooch" became popular from Tom Wolfe's 1979 book "The Right Stuff," which showcased NASA's 1960s Mercury Seven space program and its authentic jargon.
  • Today, people use "screw the pooch" to talk about notable errors in various contexts, from everyday life to professional situations.
  • The phrase is versatile, fitting in scenarios ranging from a missed deadline at work to forgetting an anniversary at home.
  • Using "screw the pooch" in conversation emphasizes the gravity of the error, suggesting it was more than just a minor oversight and had tangible consequences.

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