wag the dog

wag the dog

Meaning

  • to divert attention from something that is bad
  • to change the topic from something that is more important to something that is not
  • to hide something
  • a small part (of something) controlling the big part
  • circumstances where a larger group does things in order to satisfy a smaller group

Example Sentences

  1. The prime minister keeps wagging the dog to keep people from actually finding out about the scam and its details.
  2. I had to wag the dog so that he does not find out where I had actually gone this afternoon.
  3. She often wags the dog so that his mother does not find out about his father’s medical condition. They do not want to frighten her until things are clearer.
  4. Although Suzy has just joined the team yesterday she has been wagging the dog since this morning and trying to tell people what to do.
  5. The management wags the dog when it comes to the sales department.

Origin

There is a popular saying which goes “a dog is smarter than its tail, but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would wag the dog“. The phrase in discussion is the shorter version of the same. The phrase is also the tittle of a black comedy film from 1997.

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1 Comment

AuthorStill Confused writes on 17th April 2018

With all of these examples, add But what actions are taken to divert?
“I had to wag the dog so that he does not find out where I had actually gone this afternoon”. What actions is this person doing that is considered wagging the dog? This would make the definition more clear, no?
“The prime minister keeps wagging the dog to keep people from finding out about the scam”. Isn’t knowing what specific action the prime minister took important in making clear what WTD is?
Shouldn’t it be – “The prime minister created a unnecessary war to distract the public from actually finding out about the scam. Going into a unnecessary war is an example of WTD.”
#5 is especially confusing and vague. What the heck is the management actually doing (when it comes to the sales dept) that is considered wagging the dog in this example?

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