Katy arrived home from school, went to the refrigerator, and looked inside. The box from her birthday cake was still there. She had been waiting all day to enjoy the last slice of the delicious chocolate cake. Her stomach grumbled. She lifted the lid of the box … but it was empty! The cake was gone. She ran into the living room and saw her brother playing computer games. “You ate my birthday cake, I know you did!” she yelled angrily, and her little brother started to cry. But she was barking up the wrong tree. Katy’s grandmother had visited earlier that day and her parents had offered Grandma the cake with her cup of tea!
Watch more examples of how to use this idiom in the video below!
In the past, people used to hunt animals using dogs. The dogs would chase the animal up a tree. Then they would bark, and the humans would come and catch the animal. Sometimes, the animal would trick the dogs, and the dogs would be barking up the wrong tree. There would be no animal in the tree.
For this reason, to bark up the wrong tree means to take a wrong course of action or to take a mistaken course of action – for example, to ask the wrong person, to ask the wrong question, etc.
Let’s look at a few examples to help clear this up:
- If you’re asking me for relationship advice, you’re barking up the wrong tree! I’ve been divorced five times!
- Watson, I think we’ve been barking up the wrong tree. We’ve been investigating Smith, but I think Smith is innocent! We should be investigating Mrs. Walpole.
- We’ve been looking for the virus in water sources, but what if we’ve been barking up the wrong tree? What if it’s an airborne virus?
So, there we are. Have you ever been barking up the wrong tree? Let us know in the comments section below.
Ready to try out today’s idiom?
- Can you think of a time where you accused someone of doing something they didn’t do? What happened?
- Was there ever a time where you decided to change a course of action at work? Why did you make this decision?
- Did you ever ask a friend for help, but were disappointed by the results? What happened?
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