bark up the wrong tree

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An allusion to a situation in which a hunting dog misidentifies the tree up which it has chased an animal and positions itself at the base of another tree, barking upward at the branches.


bark up the wrong tree

  1. (idiomatic) To do, believe, or pursue something wrong or inappropriate; to take the wrong approach; to follow a false lead; to blame or rebuke the wrong person.
    • 1894, Robert Barr, chapter 21, in In the Midst of Alarms:
      You're not the first man who has made such a mistake, and found he was barking up the wrong tree.
    • 1915, John Buchan, chapter 10, in The Thirty-Nine Steps:
      They all went into the house, and left me feeling a precious idiot. I had been barking up the wrong tree this time.
    • 1922, William MacLeod Raine, chapter 19, in Man Size:
      "We want West. He's a cowardly murderer—killed the man who trusted him." . . .
      "Of course we may be barking up the wrong tree," the officer reflected aloud. "Maybe West isn't within five hundred miles of here."
    • 2008 September 2, Ken Russell, "Let my life flash before you, in paperback," Times Online (UK) (retrieved 1 Oct 2010):
      After three failed marriages I realised that I may have been barking up the wrong tree and should abandon the search for the perfect wife.

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