Note: Hey, did you know that this website is full of phrases and sayings, with their meanings and even some info on their possible origins? You probably did. Alright, but did you know on the left side of the home page, you can easily find separate pages for both sports and animal related expressions? You can! While making this site, I noticed that there are quite a few sayings associated with animals and sports, so having them listed in one location is a nice way for me to keep track of them. I'll be adding to those lists at some point, so perhaps give it a look if you're interested. Thanks!
knowyourphrase.com - Sayings With Their Meanings and Origins
To make a wrong assumption about someone or something.
If a person is being falsely accused of something, they might use this phrase to inform the accuser that they are mistaken.
The origin of this phrase is believed to be rooted in dogs and hunting. Dogs are sometimes used during hunting because of their strong sense of smell, their ability to chase and track other animals, and they add a bit of extra security for the hunter.
After spotting another animal, a dog might give chase. The fleeing animal, if it is capable, may decide to climb a tree in order to escape. Dogs, on the other hand, are not so great at tree climbing, so instead they will stay at the trunk of the tree and bark, indicating to the hunter where the fleeing animal is hiding.
Well, obviously dogs can make mistakes and choose the wrong tree. How might the dog pick the wrong one? Well, there are a few reasons I could think of. Perhaps during the chase the dog was unable to keep up with the fleeing animal and thus lost sight of them, or maybe the dog got distracted along the way, losing focus. Whatever the case, if a dog fails to pick the right tree, well, then they are literally 'barking up the wrong the tree.'
This expression goes back to at least the early to mid-19th century, where the idiom is already being used in a figurative sense. For example, the Knickerbocker Magazine from 1836 reads:
"You've been barking up the wrong tree, cried the Ohioan."
* Jason was barking up the wrong tree when he said I was the one that ate his cookies after he left the room; it was actually his dog, Max!
* After investigating the crime rates in my neighborhood, I apparently was barking up the wrong tree when I claimed they had gotten better.