Barking Up the Wrong Tree

In England here everyone likes to think we are the masters of the English language and we (says the Irishman) have exported the English language across the globe. However, it appears it hasn’t always been a one way street (assuming one way street has the same meaning in both UK and US) and considering the vast majority of you lot live across the pond then it only seems fair that we should doff our hats to you too.. For example, ‘barking up the wrong tree’, I thought that was an old English expression but it turns out it’s American. It comes from the practice of raccoon hunting in the 1800’s. The canny raccoon would scurry up a tree when being chased by hunting dogs and the dogs would stand with their paws on the trunk of the tree and bark at the raccoon. The hunters would catch up and one of them would climb the tree only to find the raccoon wasn’t there, the dog had been mistaken and was barking up the wrong tree..

Being ‘on the breadline’ comes from the 1870’s and specifically because the Fleischman Bakery in New York was renowned for always having fresh bread. They baked their own bread each morning and whatever wasn’t sold by the end of the day was given away for free to the poor. Consequently a queue, or line as Americans would say, formed outside their bakery each evening and if you were poor then you were on the breadline.

Being on Cloud Nine, another American import is a very modern import. Between the 1930’s and 1950’s the American Weather Bureau divided clouds into classes of one to nine. The highest, cloud nine, is the cumulonimbus, which reaches 40,000 ft and can appear as a white mountain. A popular radio show during the 1950’s had it’s hero Johnny Dollar knocked unconscious and magically transported to ‘cloud nine’ where he was revived and lived to fight another day.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat is another import and happily it doesn’t involve different techniques for skinning cats, it’s actually different techniques for skinning catfish which are notoriously difficult to skin.

On the wagon comes from our American cousins. During the very early 1900’s water wagons would go around American towns and cities cleaning streets and some carried drinking water as well. Folk (nearly always men) whom had given up alcohol could often be found gathered around the water wagons trying to quench their thirst with water rather than the demon drink. Some hardened drinkers would actually climb on the wagon and stay there drinking as much as possible as it cleaned the streets and thus ‘on the wagon’ came into widespread use.

You get such an education here, don’t ya?