Barking Up the Wrong Tree (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

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.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree (Origin)
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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