Screw the pooch ... Huh?

Can anyone provide a good definition (and perhaps history) of the phrase “screw the pooch”?

It’s really bugging me not to know exactly what this means…

What it means is someone screwed up royally; made a huge mistake. Why it means that, I have no idea.

Methinks that there was a joke involved such as someone comes home drunk and screws the dog by mistake.

I have never even heard it before. Must be a local thing.

I think it’s more of a military thing. You hear it in movies quite often, though I can’t think of an example at the moment.

It was popularized by Tom Wolfe’s novel about the American space program, The Right Stuff, in which the first astronauts used it to describe a royal fuck up, like Gus Grissom sinking his space capsule in the ocean.

It refers to the very worst thing that could happen. IE - you didn’t just screw the maid or a loose woman, you screwed the family dog. There is no greater level of screwedupedness you can aspire to.

IIRC, Grissom didn’t sink it through any wrongdoing of his own, but in the course of being rescued it was discovered that he brought numerous toy rockets on the trip with the intention of selling them as space souvenirs for big $$$. “Screwing the Pooch” therefore means getting caught in a situation where the exposure is far more consequential than the actual offense.

The world won’t end if you screw your pooch. It basically ends for you if you’re caught in the act, though. I really think that’s what the term means.

Not for nuthin’, but I think the reason for this thread is that Sam Waterston’s character on “Law and Order” said it twice in last night’s episode.

Exactly. I thought there must be some translation other than “having sexual intercourse with the canine” in order for the phrase to be used on prime-time, broadcast TV.

It seems there’s not.

Or else maybe the network censor screwed the pooch?

That’s why I love this forum, you learn things you never knew you needed to know!

Well, whether Grissom did anything wrong is a matter of conjecture- but Tom Wolfe (and, apparently, many of the observers he talked to) seemed pretty sure that Grissom WAS responsible for the sinking of his capsule, due to panic.

After splashdown, Grissom was supposed to just sit in the capsule and wait to be picked up. But the hatch blew, and he jumped out into the water. In the process, he nearly drowned, while the capsule took on water, and sank.

Grissom claimed that the hatch blew by itself, through a technical malfunction, but nobody really believed that. The general opinion was that Grissom got panicky and blew the hatch for no good reason.

It’s a new one on me too. But, not here at the Dope. I did a text search for screwed AND pooch. Seems like the phrase has been used quite a bit around here. I just missed it I guess. One thread makes reference to some tv series “the family guy”…?

I don’t know anything about this either, I don’t watch a lot of television, I have only rabbit ears on the tube and pick up two stations. anyway, the series apparently had an episode called “screwed the pooch”…

as far as Grissom’s screw up goes…didn’t they actually hook the cable to the heliocopter that was supposed to lift the capsule out of the water and put it on the ship, but when he blew the doors and it filled up with water, the capsule sank! Taking the heliocopter with it.


you’ll find an earlier reference in Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” He reports it as slang used by test pilots in the California desert during the '50s, as jet fighter aircraft were being developed and tested. The pilot who “screwed the pooch” was the one who died in the wreckage of his plane.

I couldn’t help myself, I really need to get a handle on this OCD…


Actually, NASA and everyone involved was pretty much convinced that Grissom wasn’t responsible.



and, from

There are quite a few others (Google Grissom mercury sink) but everything I found says that NASA pretty much agreed that it wasn’t his fault. A few of the sites have some fairly negative things to say about Tom Wolfe for perpetuating the story in The Right Stuff too.

The capsule sank, the helicopter did not.

From Red Meat:

“I just screwed the pooch.”
“Sorry, I meant ‘made love’”

Yeah, it means screw up big time.
as for Grissom, now that we have the Capsule back, has any new evidence come to light?

Yes, I think you’re right…it’s been awhile and my old brain ain’t what it once was…:wink:

I still seem to remember the helicopter was in a jam though. It tried to pick up the capsule but it was too heavy, because of the water and had to release it to save the chopper. Maybe that’s correct, I’m gonna check it out.

BTW, yeah Grissom did get cleared of actually causing the mishap, although there are still skeptics. Ain’t it always the case?

Either way, the pooch got screwed…:smiley:
Menocchio, according to what I’ve just read…“there is no way we can prove conclusively, without the hatch”, Which is still at the bottom, probably lost for good.

Nope. From the third link I posted above…

emolson did this Question come up because you watched Jack McCoy say it on Law & Order last night? I am fairly certain that it was the first time I have heard that term used on telivision. Jack was talking about a priest. I suppose better the pooch than the alter boy!