Screw the Pooch - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did you just make an embarrassing mistake? If you want to save your reputation, you could admit to it and tell everybody you didn’t mean to “screw the pooch on that one. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “screw the pooch” means that you made a terribly embarrassing mistake that could cost you your reputation. It’s also a way of taking accountability and responsibility for the situation by acknowledging your mistake.

If you’re using “screw the pooch” to describe your actions or decisions, it’s a way of being humble in the face of adversity, and it prevents other people from getting angry at you.

Example Usage

“I knew I should have kept my mouth shut, but I always have to try and keep it real. I really screwed the pooch on that one, and now Kevin’s really angry with me.”

“I screwed the pooch on that one. Now there’s no chance of us ever landing that contract.”

“Leave it to you to screw the pooch. Now the entire team is going to miss out because of your mistake.”

Way to screw the pooch on that one Mike, now you’re going to have to go to court over this.”

“Simon decided to screw the pooch on that one; I bet he regrets his decision right about now.”


The origin of the expression “screw the pooch” comes from a vulgar phrase used in the 1930s. “F**k the dog and sell the pups” is a rendition of the earlier expression, “feed the dog,” from the 1910s. The original saying implied a person was lazy or liked to loaf around.

The use of the word “dog” implies laziness, as dogs are notorious for lying around in the sun doing nothing whenever they get the chance. “F**k the dog” was in use in America until the end of the Vietnam War in the 70s.

“Screw the pooch” originates from American Icon and author Tom Wolfe and his book “The Right Stuff,” published in 1979. The book gets its inspiration from NASA's “Mercury Seven” space program in the 60s. Hollywood made a successful film adaptation of the book in 1983.

Radio personality Jack May, aka “Candied Yam Jackson,” claims he’s responsible for coining “screw the pooch.” He claims he used the phrase in the spring of the 50s after arguing with a friend from NASA about using chimpanzees to test flight suits.

Phrases Similar to Screw the Pooch

  • I messed up.
  • I made a big mistake.
  • Oofff.

Phrases Opposite to Screw the Pooch

  • I made it happen.
  • It all worked out.
  • It went to plan.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Screw the pooch.
  • Screwed the pooch.

Ways People May Say Screw the Pooch Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with bestiality. While the expression has an explicit origin, it's not the modern meaning of the saying. So using for anything other than acknowledging a mistake is the incorrect use of the expression. Some people may replace "pooch" with other slang words for dogs, but "pooch" is the more consistently used version in everyday conversation.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Screw the Pooch

You can use the phrase "screw the pooch" when you're trying to tell someone that you or they messed up. It's a way of taking responsibility for a mistake and admitting to others that you know that wasn't the right decision. You can use the phrase in professional and social use.

For instance, you could tell the boss you really "screwed the pooch" trying to land the account. Or you could tell your wife that you "screwed the pooch" by arguing with the neighbors over something trivial. Now you regret starting a feud with them.

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