Barking Up the Wrong Tree (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Barking Up the Wrong Tree"?

The term "barking up the wrong tree" means pursuing the wrong path to achieve your aim.

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • He accused his neighbour of stealing his bike, but he was barking up the wrong tree; it turned out his bike was in the garage all along.
  • She thought her phone was lost at work, but it turned out she was barking up the wrong tree; it was actually at home.
  • He believed his teammate was responsible for the team's failure, but he was barking up the wrong tree; the real issue was poor communication.
  • The detective initially suspected the butler, but he soon realized he was barking up the wrong tree; it was someone else entirely.
  • She blamed her dog for eating her homework, but she was barking up the wrong tree; it was actually her cat.
The idiom refers to hunting dogs barking at the bottom of a tree where they mistakenly think their prey is hiding. (Often, the prey will have jumped to another tree, leaving the dogs "barking up the wrong tree."

The saying has been in use since at least 1832, when it appeared in the US writer James Kirke Paulding's "Westward Ho!":
  • "Here he made a note in his book, and I begun to smoke him for one of those fellows that drive a sort of a trade of making books about old Kentuck and the western country: so I thought I'd set him barking up the wrong tree a little, and I told him some stories that were enough to set the Mississippi a-fire; but he put them all down in his book."
Used figuratively, "barking up the wrong tree" can also be used more widely to mean "totally wrong."

Example of use:

  • I did not leave the safe open on Friday. I was holidaying in France! You are barking up the wrong tree.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.