Friday, September 28, 2007

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

I haven't posted anything on English idioms so I decided to start today with the expression "barking up the wrong tree."

Idioms are essentially phrases that use figurative language to communicate a point. They are used to make a point more powerful. Also, they are used to communicate an otherwise complex idea in a few words. They often use imagery.

Let's look at the idiom, "barking up the wrong tree." Consider a dog chasing a cat through a forest. The cat shimmies up a tree quickly. The dog sees this. Upon reaching the top of the tree, the cat jumps onto a branch of another tree. The dog, since he's on the ground, does not see the cat jumping to the next tree. The poor doggie, then, keeps barking up the original tree not knowing that kitty has moved to another tree and is now safe from him. Doggie is still barking up the wrong tree.

In human terms, imagine you're trying to fix a problem with one solution. But, no matter what you do, the problem persists. Unknown to you, the solution is something completely different. If you're experiencing something like this, then, you're barking up the wrong tree. Like the dog who was looking for the cat in the wrong tree, you're trying to solve a problem with the wrong solution.

Instead of describing the situation (which will take some time), you can just say, "I was barking up the wrong tree."

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