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  1. #1
    joham is offline Key Member
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    Default 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    When a speaker uses the idiom 'barking up the wrong tree', is it possible that the hearer/listener feels offended because they are being referred to as a dog? Is it an offending idiom?

    Thank you in advance.

  2. #2
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    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    No, this is not offensive.

    Speaking of dogs, if you tell me "I don't have a dog in this fight" I won't assume you engage in dogfighting either.

    And if you tell me "That dog won't hunt" I won't think you're often in the habit of hunting.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  3. #3
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    You're more likely to cause offence by telling someone they're wrong than by the comparison to a dog.

  4. #4
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    catbert is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by joham View Post
    When a speaker uses the idiom 'barking up the wrong tree', is it possible that the hearer/listener feels offended because they are being referred to as a dog? Is it an offending idiom?
    You do know what the idiom means, right?

  5. #5
    konungursvia's Avatar
    konungursvia is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    Now that the English language is world-wide, I think I would say we have to recognize that in some cultures, dogs are viewed very lowly, as we see snakes in the English speaking world.

    For Arabs and Muslims in general, who abhorred the Zoroastrian / Parsi tradition of feeding human corpses to vultures or dogs, the dog is seen in a particularly negative light.

    So I wouldn't use the phrase with just anyone, but only with someone I knew was from a very dog-loving culture, like the English and Americans.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    Now that the English language is world-wide, I think I would say we have to recognize that in some cultures, dogs are viewed very lowly, as we see snakes in the English speaking world.

    For Arabs and Muslims in general, who abhorred the Zoroastrian / Parsi tradition of feeding human corpses to vultures or dogs, the dog is seen in a particularly negative light.

    So I wouldn't use the phrase with just anyone, but only with someone I knew was from a very dog-loving culture, like the English and Americans.
    I don't think this is a valid point. When learning a language, one has to understand the surrounding culture as well. Language doesn't exist in a vacuum. To censor oneself that way when speaking English would be needless and tiresome.

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    Is it really censorship to take into account the culture of the person you're speaking to?

  8. #8
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    Is it really censorship to take into account the culture of the person you're speaking to?
    It seems to me that it is a form of self-censorship that should not be expected of ordinary people when they are speaking their own language. Professional politicians and diplomats should have their advisers to warn them not to be too casual about using a word like 'mecca' when addressing Moslem or Jewish audiences, but for most of us it is a perfectly acceptable word in such meanings as are given here: mecca - Dictionary definition and pronunciation - Yahoo! Education.

    I normally have the greatest respect for konungursvia's views, but I flatly reject the idea that I should avoid using English expressions involving animal X just because some people of other cultures see animal X in a negative light. If I am living/working in another country, then I do try to become a little more aware of what might be offensive, but, in my own country, speaking my own native tongue, NO. When I have been teaching in other countries, I have tried to avoid using some expressions in my life outside the classroom, but, in the classroom, I explain that learners have to live with the fact that native speakers use such expressions naturally.

  9. #9
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: 'barking up the wrong tree' --an offending idiom or not?

    I wouldn't worry about using this idiom either, but I don't think that the principle is that wrong- I wouldn't use every expression with everybody, so it's a question of degree.

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