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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.


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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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