Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dogs and pastries molested - details inside

"It's a terrible thing to waste a mind," said our President once, in an attempt to relate the line from that notable ad for the United Negro (yes, that's their word) College Fund.

(Or was it Dan Quayle who said that? Yes, it was Dan Quayle, and the exact quote was

What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.

Whatever happened to Dan Quayle? Wait, I realize I don't care.)

I was using my mind a little yesterday, happily multitasking, and out of the blue the phrase "screw the pooch" popped in. There was no context, no conversation, no reason - just a curious phrase come a'visiting. I treasure these little ADD moments when I am engaged in something "serious" but gleefully follow the mental pied piper as he passes by. So off I went, in pursuit of the origins and true meaning of "screw the pooch."

As is the case with so many of our most vigorous and useful phrases, "screw the pooch" appears to have originated with the military. Sources say the original remark was "f***ing the dog," and was related to the perpetual "hurry up and wait" of military life - a lot of people standing around, waiting for orders, so you might as well - um...have sex with an animal? OK, it's colorful and descriptive, but perhaps not grounded in reality.

Nevertheless, the original phrase got sanitized and became "screw the pooch," but it is less clear how the meaning shifted from "having nothing to do" to "doing something badly," which is the current meaning of "screw the pooch." See if you can work it into conversation today.

Meanwhile, I took a moment to ponder another crafty expression that's always a crowd pleaser - "take a flying f*** at a rolling donut." Sadly, there are not many moments in life when you can successfully whip this one from your quiver of barbs, and that's too bad, because it so thoroughly pierces the recipient while making everyone else laugh. I think Kurt Vonnegut did a lot to popularize the phrase when he used it in his book Slapstick, but I still don't hear it nearly often enough. So it goes.

So what have we learned today? Our beautiful American English is a fertile field sprouting nutritious and delicious turns of phrase. Have some, they're good for you.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Wow, from Oreo Blizzards to donuts. Your columns are making me hungry. You stopping by the Buttercream Bakery on your way home?

I have heard of taking a flying f***, but never directed at a rolling donut. I will try to use it in conversation, but remember where I work.