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The Dog Drank Koolaid

November 18th, 2008 · 36 Comments

The Dog Drank Koolaid

So I got an e-mail today from a Peace Corps volunteer in Guyana, who thought it was a little ironic that he was writing me, in the Bay Area, on the 30th Anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. He signed the letter, “Don’t drink the Koolaid.” And I sort of shuddered.

I was reminded that what seems like a fairly innocuous phrase that we use to denote someone who has bought into a concept, or joined a cult, either a real one, like the one James Jones started in the Bay Area, which ended thirty years ago in Guyana when all of the followers drank Koolaid laced with cyanide, resulting in the greatest mass suicide in American history, and maybe human history, or a perceived one, like being an Obamaniac or believing in supply side economics.

That’s where it comes from kids, the “He drank the koolaid,” phrase. We threw it around all through the election (when we weren’t comparing everyone, including the Pope, to Hitler), I even saw it in the paper today, “they drank the Palin Koolaid, she drank the Obama koolaid, they sipped on Neo-con koolaid and watched their world burn (with respect to Harlan Ellison). *

We forget the dark origins, the tragedy of the origin of the phrase — that there are many people still living who feel a blade of grief twist in their soul when they hear, “drank the koolaid”. But the defusing of the extreme into turns of phrase goes back through history and literature, some we can trace, like “pound of flesh” from The Merchant of Venice, to “Ring around the Rosey” a song sung by children in London during the plague years. Ring around the rosy — the red rings around the sores, or buboes, left on the skin by the bubonic plague; pocketfull of poseys – they put flowers in the pockets of the dead to masque the smell. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down — well, you can kind of figure that one out, can’t you?
There are many, many more, the etymology of which elude me right now, and I loaned my Morris Dictionary of Phrase Origins to someone twelve years ago and I’m still waiting for the fuckstick to return it.
Many of us remember the, “Pod people” that started with the Jack Finney novel, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where a “pod” was placed by aliens next to your bed at night, and when you awoke, you were part of a very docile, hive mind, all very June Cleaver, Eisenhower Idyllic. It was carried forward in the 80s when Saturday Night live used it as an explanation why so many, otherwise reasonable people, seemed to be supporting Ronald Reagan.

How many other figures of speech that we take for granted have some historical basis? In agriculture: bet the farm, living high on the hog, a bumper crop, rode hard and put away wet, counting your chickens before they’re hatched, putting all your eggs in one basket (somebody, somewhere, dropped a bunch of eggs to get that one); Military: Shot his wad (having to fire a flintlock rifle before it’s fully loaded, thus rendering it useless until the reload), or shot his bolt (similar circumstances with a crossbow), flash in the pan (again, from flintlock, when the powder in the pan ignites with a flash, but the powder in the barrel doesn’t, which is, a disappointment). It goes on. Nearly all can be traced to some real-life activity or event.

So I’m thinking, “Fucked the Dog” Hmmmm. “Screwed the Pooch.” Meaning in present day, having made a grave error. But where did it originate? Who, originally, gave the dog a bone, and what did he (or she) set out to do, that they ended up pounding the Pomeranian (it’s funnier if you think of it as a Pomeranian).
I remembered 8th grade study hall, when we were supposed to be studying, but instead we were taking turns reading aloud from The Happy Hooker. It was the most popular book in 8th grade, right up there with The Exorcist and The Prophet, which no one read aloud from. So Xavier Hollander is in South Africa, home more or less alone, and she’s got her horns up, but it’s completely forbidden to have “relations” with any of the Black African servants, so she recruits the home owner’s German Shepherd to do the deed. Yes, literally, she screws the pooch, but at the time, it doesn’t seem like that huge a mistake. She pretty much fucks the dog on purpose, and for about three pages, if I remember correctly. And they both enjoyed it, we suspect, but you know how those German Shepherds lie. She can’t have been the first person the fuck the dog as the prime example of the ultimate fuck-up.

No, someone had to set out to do something else and ended up fucking the dog.

“I was trying to adjust the carburetor on my Camero.”
“I know, Bob, but as it turned out, you fucked the dog instead.”
“So, I should have brought a phillips screwdriver, huh?”

Was this actually a farmer’s daughter joke originally? Did, Bob, set out to say, screw the farmer’s beautiful daughter, but ended up going in the wrong room, and it the dark, well — it could happen to anyone.

(I’d like to say right here, that I was a traveling salesman in the early 80s. You had to keep moving or someone would put a Regan pod by your bed. But I never, ever, got an invitation to stay over at a farmer’s house, nor sleep with anyone daughter, or dog. There was one time where a woman put Oreos under my briefcase and made me watch while her English bulldog snuffled it out from under the case like a truffle snuffling pig. It was deeply disgusting, but I did not have sexual relations with that bulldog. Which is not say that it wasn’t a mistake, but I pretty much consider all of the early 80s that way. It was the “fucked the dog” demi-decade”. )

And why, for that matter is it the dog? I’d think there’d be other, more colorful animals to denote a mistake:

“Wow, Bob, you really masturbated the marmoset on that chip shot, you’re going to have to take a penalty stroke.”

“Geeze, Alice, you certainly sucked-off the rhinoceros the the sales projections.”

“Yeah, Frank sure felated the flamingo on that one.” (I’ve just discovered that my spell check doesn’t know felated. Doesn’t even have any suggestions. I’m thinking this may be part of an ongoing curse I bear.)

Speaking of Bears, “Some days you shag the bear, and some days that old bear shags you.” Either way, can’t really be that great a thing. Maybe worse, I’m thinking, than screwing the pooch. That’s all I’m saying.

I know. There has to be an original dog fucker. There has to be dog-fucker zero, as they say in statistical medicine. (Okay, they probably don’t say it that often, and if they do, maybe you should consider changing doctors.) There has to be an alpha-dog-fucker. (Which in this case, means the first dog fucker, not the dominant dog fucker, although, to be fair, I suppose one could be both.)

We’ve all thought, “Who was the first person who thought an artichoke was a good thing to eat?” Right? Or, “How hungry did the first guy who ate an oyster have to get before giving that a go?” And someone, somewhere, had to try eating oleander, foxglove, hemlock, rhubarb leaves, and castor beans before everyone else said, “Well that shit will kill you.” So why isn’t there a phrase, “Wow, Phil, you sure ate the oleanders on that one.”?

But you get the idea. Generally, I understand, without trying it, that fucking the dog is probably a mistake. I like dogs, but not that much.

But then there are some other turns of phrase, figures of speech, whatever, that elude me even more.

I was in my teens, standing around with some buddies, I think at a CanAm race, and a very attractive woman in summer-dress walked by. And we, politely, and among ourselves, without any direct contact with the woman, nor leering, whistling, or otherwise harshing her space, or objectifying her in any way, were making comments like, “Oh man, I’d wash her windows for free.” And, “Oh man, I’d drink her bathwater.” And my friend Steve, whose name really was Steve, in this case, said, “I’d eat a mile of her shit to find out where it came from.”

And the rest of us just turned and looked at him. I mean, up to that point we’d been nodding like bobble-heads, sort of paying tribute to the communal god of not-gettin -any, but Doooood!? He ruined that poor woman for everyone, sullied the act of public lust, and pretty much creeped out a whole group of teenage boys, which is nearly impossible.

Where the hell did that come from?

And I turned to him and said, “Steve, man, you fucked the dog on that one.”

Well he did.

Your Homework: Some speculation on the origins of some of the more bizarre figures of speech in our language. Extra credit if you’re multilingual and can tell us about stupid figures of speech in other languages.

*A paraphrase of the great first line of Ellison’s story, Kiss of Fire: “He drank ice crystals laced with midnight and watched their world burn.”

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36 responses so far ↓

  • 1 GretchenFaith // Nov 19, 2008 at 5:29 am

    I should know better than to read anything you have written while drinking coffee at the same time.

    But thank you for making me laugh at 7:15 in the morning. (Which is almost impossible to do, I hate mornings.)

    But the coffee through the nose? Ouch.

  • 2 mllefifi // Nov 19, 2008 at 5:54 am


    “Stop and smell the coffee”

    (…that is, before you spew it out onto your computer screen when you’re reading Chris’ blog.)

    Someone had to do *that* the first time.


  • 3 clickbouyow // Nov 19, 2008 at 8:57 am

    I can help you with this one. It is a military expression, dating back to black powder days and when fuses in shells were kind of hit or miss. A “dog” is an unexploded shell. (BTW, a carcass is an unfused shell). I suppose, with a little axle grease, and an lonely unexploded shell that has a decent size hole in it…a romance of sorts can happen (aka Your time in the barrel, which is the nautical term). So, some lonely soldier could have “fucked the dog” so to speak.

  • 4 Simianlovedoc // Nov 19, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Thank you, I have been trying to get IT to replace one of my monitors. Apparently, aerosolized Diet Pepsi is detrimental to most LCD monitors.

    Great piece, Chris.

  • 5 Temple // Nov 19, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Wow…the things I learn…as I put down my Crystal Light beverage (you know, yuppie-chick Kool Aid).

  • 6 Daniel // Nov 19, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    “You got gypped”

    I think I heard somewhere that this was supposed to refer to the Gypsies of old, who would swindle you?

  • 7 Bernie // Nov 19, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t know if it is a stupid figure of speech, but if there would be a contest, i would vote for the “quantum leap”
    This wording is used in english and german for “a big change” but when you read about physics you learn that a “quantum leap” is one of the minorest changes at all.
    But as it sounds like the opposite everybody uses it for describing big changes.

    To get the extra credit for multilinguality:
    In german spoken countries there is a phrase for having bad luck (like in english get the short end of the stick or the bad end of the deal).
    This phrase is “die Arschkarte ziehen” which, if i would translate the words, would mean “to get the ass-card”.
    This phrase is said to be developed in the time before color- TV’s.
    So when people where watching soccer they would have not known if a player who did something “unsporty” was only warned by the referee by showing hom a yellow card or if he was suspendet for the rest of the game by a red card.
    Therefore the referee hat a pocket on his chest where the “warningcard” was kept an one at the lower end of his back for the “suspend-card”.
    So why thats used for bad luck?
    I guess because there were always good “actors” in soccer an if you are suspendet because of a foul that didn’t exist, it’s bad luck.

  • 8 mllefifi // Nov 19, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    I think we all would like to know who was the first person to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

  • 9 Bruceifer // Nov 19, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Dear Assclown, haven’t you ever heard of “man’s best friend”? And for that matter, just what the fuck is an “assclown”? I mean I’ve heard of slapping the clown, flogging the dog, and the ubiquitious “spanking the monkey”, but when I think of ass, the word clown should not naturally appear as a modifier, or as the modiefied noun. Butt, I digress about that whole dog thing, well, I think as humans we’re naturally curious and as men, we’ll pretty much stick our “johnson” into anything, animate or otherwise. This often is precluded by copious amounts of alcohol, but not as a rule, we as men are quite willing to do stupid shit for as little an
    ” I dare ya”, and more often than not with little financial reward involved. Dick the sheep isn’t just a saying in Scotland, and as repulsive as some of these things sounded to you the first time, well, just remember the first girl you asked to “let ya take the dirt road” and then think back to the first girl who let ya! In summation, to men, as the pigs we so proudly are, everything, every single physical being can pretty much by used as a fuck toy if you use your imagination, and every word or name can be used as a euphemism for sex, sexual parts, or sexual proclivities. I gotta go walk the dog, no really I mean, ya know “walk” type walk, oh fuck it , never mind……

  • 10 joe // Nov 19, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    in some latin american countries, people will warn you about “grabbing the bull by the balls”. obviously not a very positive connotation, but I’m sure the first guy to do it really regretted it later.

  • 11 Something Shiny » Best o’ the Web - November 20, 2008 // Nov 20, 2008 at 8:48 am

    […] The Dog Drank Koolaid […]

  • 12 JasonB // Nov 20, 2008 at 9:55 am

    “Flying off the handle” is used to describe someone getting vehemently angry.

    I’ve heard that it refers to an axe or hammer head flying off it’s handle and the damage that it can cause.

  • 13 Watching The Wheels // Nov 20, 2008 at 10:45 am

    “Putting your foot in your mouth.”

    I’ve always wondered where that one came from. I strongly suspect there was a contortionist who used to say some really dumb shit.

  • 14 Redroach // Nov 20, 2008 at 11:23 am

    When I stop laughing I will type an intelligent comment

  • 15 Aditya // Nov 21, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Magnificent article! Ar Oh Tee Eff Ell, as the kids say these days.

    One thing, though – your spell check doesn’t recognise ‘felated’ because the word is ‘fellated’.

  • 16 chris // Nov 22, 2008 at 12:28 pm


    If I knew how to spell it, I wouldn’t need spellcheck to recognize it, would I?


  • 17 JimmyD // Nov 23, 2008 at 7:27 am

    You prompted me to look up one of my personal favorites: Anal Retentive

    (I have no idea who Tony Shapley is.)

    From Tony Shapley:

    Whilst being my normal curmudgeonly self I was recently accused of being anal retentive. Now I have heard this expression used on innumerable occasions and every time I have asked the speaker to explain exactly what they meant I have been met with a flushed silence. Perhaps you or one of your erudite readers can explain its origin and meaning.
    If, as I suspect it is the illiterates equivalent to feculent why use two words when one will do very nicely?

    Oh dear, we don’t think your friends were telling you that you are “full of feces”! That’s what feculent means (and a great word it is, too, also surpassing “full of sh*t” in efficiency!). Anal-retentive, on the other hand, is a term borrowed directly from Freudian psychoanalysis. According to this theory, the development of personality is determined by the primary method of obtaining pleasure. Very small infants derive pleasure through food, specifically from breast-feeding. In his “Three Essays on Sexuality” (1915) Freud called this the “oral” phase. The subsequent stages are the “anal” phase, the “phallic” phase (yes, even for girls), “latency” and “genital” phases.

    A child may obtain pleasure by defecating and may deliberately retain feces in order to maximize this pleasure. Perhaps s/he may even learn to exert power over the poor parents who are trying to toilet-train the little perisher. If so, this child is deemed “anal-retentive”

    Freud believed that most neurotics are stuck in one of the childhood phases, and have not completed their development to the “mature”, “healthy” genital phase. One of the supposed traits of an anal-retentive (or simply anal these days) person is that he is excessively neat, organized, and fastidious. Felix Unger of Neil Simon’s comedy “The Odd Couple” is the classic anal retentive figure of recent times.

    The term gained popularity in the latter half of the 20th century.

  • 18 SkyUpHigh // Nov 23, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    My english teacher said just the other day after he spilled Coke all over himself,
    “Well, Cat Fucker!”
    It was pretty random and outstandingly funny. Then someone asked him where he got to idea to say “cat fucker”, he said that just before he spilled the Coke all over himself he was thinking about how he as to drive out to Petco after school and buy cat food.
    I was pretty much a trend starter.
    Now everyone blurts out “Cat Fucker!” and it’s been a month and they still do it.
    Now I just shout “Duck Fuck!”, since it rhymes and all.

  • 19 Wendy // Nov 24, 2008 at 12:45 am

    “There isn’t enough room to swing a cat in here!”

    I think that’s a Pirate-y phrase about where to flog yer mutineers – “cat” is a whip, and you want a nice, unobstructed arc. Arr!

    But who doesn’t imagine Mr. Tibbles’ tail firmly in grip, once or twice around, just to get the general idea of the square footage? It’s such a funny phrase, and accurate whether you’re talking about a whip or a pet.

    (For the record, I really like cats and would NEVER swing one. Ya’ll don’t get any ideas!)

  • 20 albertriehle // Nov 26, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    This is great, but I’d like to suggest to re-reading this post and using the voice of Andy Rooney in your head.

    You just haven’t lived until you’ve heard Andy Rooney use the word “fuckstick”

  • 21 okole // Nov 27, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Tossing salad…

    Who and where and why? And when did it turn from being a simple description of meal preparation to a description of that particular meal preparation?

    Ok, so “slower than a 7 year itch”; what was a 7 year itch, and an itch for what and why did it take seven years?

    Ok and last, but where did “that sucks!” Or “that really bites”… Sucks what?? Bites what??

  • 22 Cat Lady // Nov 28, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Point of fact….the Kool Aid was not actually Kool Aid but was in fact Kool Aid’s cheaper low rent competitor Power Aid.

    And for my homework I choose my grandmother’s favorite phrase…

    “Jesus Tap-dancing Christ”

    I believe this phrase originates from a poorly conceived Vaudville act.

  • 23 Cat Lady // Nov 28, 2008 at 5:46 pm


    I strongly encourage you not to swing a cat…they really do not like it. Now I don’t know about you, Wendy, but I for one do not have all day to denude my house coat of spin-spent cat hair; however if I were looking to gather enough cat hair to knit a new tea cozy for my auntie Maude I would consider giving ol’ Fluffy a swing.

  • 24 Ginjg // Nov 29, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    pipe dream, meaning a wildly improbable idea or plan, originated from the opium dens around chicago. It first came into use in the ’90s (the gay 90s as they were known)

  • 25 Dan // Nov 29, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    RE: Bear love

    Your post reminded me of a great old joke…

    Frank was so excited to be going bear hunting. He spotted a small brown bear and shot it. Then there was a tap on his shoulder, and he turned around to see a big black bear. The black bear said, “You’ve got two choices. I either maul you to death, or we have sex.” Frank decided to bend over.

    Even though he felt sore for two weeks, Frank soon recovered and vowing revenge. Frank headed out on another trip where he found the black bear and shot it. There was another tap on his shoulder. This time a huge grizzly bear stood right next to him. The grizzly said, “That was a huge mistake, Frank. You’ve got two choices. Either I maul you to death, or we’ll have rough sex.” Again, Frank thought it was better to bend over.

    Frank survived, but it would take several months before he fully recovered. Outraged, he headed back to the woods, tracked down the grizzly and shot it. He felt sweet revenge, but then there was a tap on his shoulder. He turned round to find a giant polar bear standing there. The polar bear said, “Admit it, Frank. You don’t come here for the hunting, do you?”

  • 26 Rodney // Nov 30, 2008 at 10:03 am

    The only ones I know of are “that’ll come up to bite you in the ass” and “mind your P’s and Q’s”.

    The first one is apparantly from snake wranglers whose first rule of snake wrangling is to never turn your back on a snake you are attempting to wrangle. Turn your back on the snake and “it’ll bite you in the ass”.

    The second one comes from British pub keepers who, when time came close to closing the pub, would advise his patrons to “mind their Pints and Quarts” so they could finish up by the time he hollered “Time, gentlemen!” which meant the pub was now closing.

    Anyway, there you go.

  • 27 Larry // Dec 2, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    I’m Jonesing for …
    Meaning severe want to have something.
    Originally people would Jones for a fix, using it as a superlative for “would like” when modifying drugs: would like, want, Jonesing for, ex: I would like some pot. I want a number. I’m Jonesing, man.
    The term started in the city on the streets, where life is hard and scary tough. But like all good trends, be it fashion, music or slang, “Jonesing” bubbled up from the city streets and cooled, flowing into the suburbs, where it was watered down with middle class shizzle, and dressed up in $100 ‘sagging’ jeans, complete with factory rips in the knees.
    Suddenly, anyone, anywhere could Jones for anything.
    But what about poor Jones?
    What of the original guy with the reputation of wanting in tremendous proportions, and for such seemingly unbearable lengths of time, that people around him started using his name to describe their own want? Who’s reputation of being a wanter grew by leaps and bounds, bringing his surname into the lexicon of everyday Americans?
    How does he feel about all this? Does he know? Does he care? Does he now describe his own ultra-wanting with his own name? Does Jones himself ‘Jones’ for things?
    I caught up with him to ask.
    He was in an alley in “Steve”-town, USA, when I found him, in the shadow of corporate America, cold hard streets, lying in his own needs.
    He seemed surprised when I approached him and asked him how he felt about America usurping his name, his very need for needing.
    “Give me a dollar and I’ll tell you.”
    I let out a condescending laugh and shook my head a little. “I know what you’d do with it. You’d just buy drugs. So I have to say no.”
    And he said: “Get your ass outta here before I peanut your libido.”
    I have no idea what peanut your libido means, but it sounded harsh so I scurried back to my suburban home, where I now sit wistfully on the porch of my cul-de-sac home, Jonesing for a soda and for the time when the neighborhood kids start using the phrase “peanut your libido” and I can safely ask them what it means.
    As soon as I find out, I’ll report back.

  • 28 jenny // Dec 3, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Bought the farm is definitely the grimmest for me. I just imagine the poor family who can’t afford their mortgage and they get word that their son dies in the war and the check.

    When people use “Third World” to mean “not as awesome or advanced as us Americans” it drives ME CRAZY. It’s supposed to mean not Capitalist (1st) or Communist (2nd). It’s so bigoted!

  • 29 Mary // Dec 8, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    If I’d been drinking coffee, it would have been snorted all over the screen over this post.

    Two sayings for you:

    The whole nine yards – supposedly refers to the making of kilts, with a good and proper kilt containing a full nine yards of fabric. That’s a LOT of fabric, especially if it’s hand-woven.

    You don’t know shit from shinola. My dad used to say this and I had no idea what it meant. I had forgotten the saying until my husband said it and then I had to blog about it. It’s become one of my more popular posts. Apparently a lot of people want to know its origins.

    Post here:

    Shinola, btw, is shoe polish.

  • 30 Screwing the Pooch « The Woo Woo Teacup Journal // Dec 10, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    […] liquid out of your nose laughing, and aren’t offended by swear words, you’ll enjoy this blog post by author Christopher Moore. In it, he describes the origins of particular phrases, including one that translates to […]

  • 31 Mattie // Dec 10, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    To correct a misconception: “The morbid ending for Jim Jones and his followers in Guyana came when U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, who represented San Francisco, led a delegation of officials and estranged family members to the Jonestown compound. They intended to investigate charges that temple members were being held against their will. Delusional and paranoid, Jones fought back with deadly consequences. Ryan was killed, along with several members of his party and some temple members who were trying to leave with him, as the delegation started to board a plane to fly out of the compound. Journalist Tim Reiterman — then a reporter for the Associated Press — was also part of Ryan’s delegation. Reiterman was shot while standing next to the airplane that was supposed to carry them to safety. But Reiterman sees a different side of Jonestown’s place in history. “I think most people in the general public continue to believe that 900 people willingly committed suicide,” he said, “whereas in fact it was mass murder manipulated by the Rev. Jim Jones.”

  • 32 Erik // Dec 12, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    I’d really like to know the origins and meaning of “Fuck that shit”.

  • 33 Joe // Dec 17, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    The whole 9 yards refers to the amount of ammunition in an amo box on WWII bombers.

  • 34 Tami // Dec 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I always thought “f* the dog” referred to someone who was wasting time and had nothing better to do; ie. boy, your job seems really useless, whattaya do, fuck the dog all day?” Conjecture – people who had lots of time would have a really well-trained dog, leading others to think this obedient behaviour was due to the dog and master having an… intimate relationship.
    Is a wolf a dog? Then this isn’t too random, and multi-lingual for points. “Montre une patte blanche” to show a white paw – interesting because it matches the english saying “wolf in sheeps clothing” in that it originates with the same old fairy tale where the wolf dips its paw in flour and shows it out the window to prove that its a sheep.

  • 35 McGoose // Dec 20, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    “You got a lemon.” Meaning the person obtained an item that was not working or undesirable. This comes from fencing when the foils were tipped with a small rag soaked in ink. The fencers wore, and still wear, white clothing so that the judges can see the marks made by the ink. The ink was removed with lemon juice. If the fencer had to use alot of lemon juice, then he smelled like lemons. He was also a loser. A real “lemon”.

  • 36 G-Hombre // Dec 23, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Not conclusive, but here’s one interpretation:

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