I don't understand expression

barking up a wrong tree

Does it think about putting bark on tree or taking it off?
A person says

you're barking up the wrong tree

and he means

don't bother me

But what is it from?
Does he mean the bark is wrong kind for the tree?
Like "I am oak, take your pine bark!"
In Croation we say the wall is closed meaning you have the wrong wall, have to climb through another with window.
Is that how this means?

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  • This page should be useful: oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/… – Damkerng T. Jan 6 '16 at 15:15
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    Since other answers seem to be missing this, I'd like to point out that in English, 'bark' in this context refers to the sound a dog makes. Thus, when a dog is 'barking', they are making the noise with their mouths that sounds like the word 'bark'. Similar to 'yapping', 'growling', and 'whining', all of which refer to different dog noises. – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 6 '16 at 18:08
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    The whole mess around here is not constructive. Close vote... – Nihilist_Frost Jan 6 '16 at 19:32
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    @Nihilist_Frost can you help me understand why the sidebar is full of questions about idiomatic english usage that are on topic but this one is off topic? im sorry fi i caused any harm to the site. – Ed Plunkett Jan 6 '16 at 21:02
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You have a hunting dog that helps you catch a wild animal. If it climbs up a tree, the dog is supposed to bark at the tree it climbed up. Imagine the situation where the dog is barking at a different (wrong) tree and you would be very disappointed at the dog.

  1. It could mean as a dog:

You are wasting your efforts and energy by pursuing the wrong path. In other words, you made the wrong choice.

  1. As a tree:

You are asking the wrong person. You have to ask somebody else. Leave me alone. I am not the tree you want.

The verb bark means the following:

to make the characteristic short loud cry of a dog.

It has nothing to do with the noun bark:

the tough exterior covering of a woody root or stem.


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    @EdPlunkett You don't have to take the meaning literally. It doesn't mean you are a hunting dog at all. It is just one of many metaphors or idioms in English. – user24743 Jan 6 '16 at 15:20
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    @EdPlunkett Notice that bark is the covering of a tree trunk and also what a dog does. The bark on the tree doesn't have anything to do with the expression though. – shawnt00 Jan 6 '16 at 17:46
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    "Bark" is not the skin of a dog; it's the sound a dog makes. – Jay Jan 6 '16 at 18:15
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    @EdP - RE: Well i have a surprise for him next time we meet Yikes! I hope you've changed your mind about that. The expression is completely neutral. It's a common idiom that carries zero insulting value. It's just an idiom, not unlike "raining cats and dogs" (which means "raining heavily") or "you're on a wild goose chase". As a helpful resource, I have found that The Free Dictionary explains idioms quite well. – J.R. Jan 7 '16 at 9:22
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    I have a funny feeling this may be a troll account. "yes I know, bark is skin on a tree and also skin of a dog" – Tom Bowen Jan 7 '16 at 11:10

Here is a dog who is barking:

enter image description here

"Drooker style dog" by Balthazar, licensed CC-BY-SA 3.0

Here is a dog who is barking up a tree:

enter image description here

"Treeing Fiest" by Scochran4, licensed CC-BY 3.0

There is an animal in the tree that the dog wants to catch.

But what if the dog picked the wrong tree? (Maybe the animal jumped into a different tree and the dog didn't see. Maybe the dog didn't see which tree the animal climbed, and guessed wrong.) Then we could say that the dog is barking up the wrong tree.

When you ask someone for information, and they say, "You're barking up the wrong tree," it means, "I don't have the information you want."

This is metaphorically like the dog (you) trying to catch the animal (information) in the tree (person). The dog is barking up some tree, but the animal isn't in that tree. The animal is in a different tree. Similarly, you're looking for information from a person, but that person doesn't have the information. Someone else knows the information you want.

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Although the other skin of a tree is referred to as it bark, this is not what is meant by

Barking up the wrong tree.

When a dog gives chase to a cat(as an example), it will bark while it frantically runs after the cat.
The cat may run up a tree to escape, leaving the barking dog below.
If the dog gets confused, (s)he may bark at/up a tree with no cat.

This is barking up the wrong tree

Looking for something in the wrong place

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This well-known phrase is an idiom, part of colloquial (AmE at least) speech, that means:

  • you are investigating something/gathering information, and

  • the action you're currently taking to find information will not help you, and

  • you probably don't know this, so that's why someone is telling you this.

Contrived example:

A: Hey Bob, I'm looking for Sally. (A thinks Bob knows where Sally is)

B: You're barking up the wrong tree, my friend. She hasn't been around here for months. (A obviously is not aware that Sally hasn't been around for months)

If you ask someone for information, and they respond with "you are barking up the wrong tree", they are indirectly telling you that they have not been involved whatsoever in what you are asking. It's not quite equivalent to "don't bother me" - more like "don't bother me because I can't help you get what you want."

Another contrived example:

Police officer: Sally said she talked to you at the restaurant, before she was murdered. What did she say to you?

Suspect: You're barking up the wrong tree. I've never been at that restaurant.

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