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While searching for the etymology of the phrase asleep at the switch, I found this marvellous Idler's Glossary. It didn't tell me the answer, of course: that's in Brewer's, which is where I should have looked in the first place:
Asleep at the switch, To be. To fail to attend to one's duty; to be unvigilant. An American expression derived from the railroads. `To switch a train' is to transfer it to another set of rails by operating a switch. Failure to do this according to schedule might well lead to a catastrophe.
Still no news on screw the pooch, which Brewer's doesn't cover (and neither does the OED). A Google search for "screw the pooch" etymology doesn't get us very far, sadly. The phrase occurs in a bunch of dictionaries of military and naval terminology, and also in dictionaries of jazz terms -- bizarre. (Have a look at OneLook, which is some sort of meta-dictionary-search, which of itself looks quite useful, though it doesn't help much here.) Perhaps I need a better dictionary of slang.
This is classic-- George W. Bush as 419 scammer:
I WOULD BESEECH YOU TO TRANSFER A SUM EQUALING TEN TO TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT (10-25 %) OF YOUR YEARLY INCOME TO OUR ACCOUNT TO AID IN THIS IMPORTANT VENTURE. THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WILL FUNCTION AS OUR TRUSTED INTERMEDIARY. I PROPOSE THAT YOU MAKE THIS TRANSFER BEFORE THE FIFTEENTH (15TH) OF THE MONTH OF APRIL.
I went to see Catch Me If You Can the other day. A bit disappointing, though it's a pretty film with a very cool title sequence. My mistake was probably to read the book before seeing the film. The book is very entertaining -- it has to be, to compensate for the appalling journalese in which it is written, for which co-author Stan Redding may be to blame. But really, what induces anybody to write something like (picking at random)
[I] stuck a packet of the [forged] cheques in my coat and went out to buck the tiger.... The tiger, for me, was a pussy cat. I ironed out Vegas like a bed sheet.
Please. Even worse, the British edition of the book has clearly been translated from the American by the simple expedient of search-ing-and-replacing `check' with `cheque', with little regard for context. So Frank Abagnale forges cheques and occasionally goes to a supermarket checkout -- but from time to time we discover him chequeing something out. Gah. Hire a proofreader!
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