On Mar 11, 2014, at 11:20 AM, Louis Talman <email@example.com> wrote:
> It may be helpful to know that the usual expression refers to "the tail wagging the dog", meaning that things are being done the wrong way around---very much as in another American expression: To put the cart before the horse.
Not trying to start a fight, but I have never found those two phrases to be interchangeable. To do things in the wrong order is certainly a case for ?the cart before the horse?, but "the tail wagging the dog? refers to the attribution of control of the whole to a much lesser and incapable part. Both phrases represent unreasonable situations, but the former is concerned with order, while the latter is concerned with control.
To ?wag the dog? is a spinoff (coined in a movie) that means to purposefully divert attention from something you don?t want attention on, to something else. The connection to ?the tail wagging the dog? idiom is very thin, and the best that I can describe, an example of artistic license.
I was drawn to this discussion because I have been searching for an idiom to best describe an unreasonable situation that often occurs in education. For example, it is noted that successful college students often take AP classes and it is noted that many disadvantaged students who aren?t successful in college, don?t take AP classes. Thus, in order that more disadvantaged students be more successful in college, they must take more AP classes. Another version is that it has been noted that students who take algebra in the 8th grade are more successful with algebra, thus all students should take algebra in the 8th grade. While the idioms above relate to unreasonable situations involving order or control, these unreasonable situations involve cause. Obviously, the reasons for students taking AP classes or algebra in the 8th grade begin many years earlier. But not according to the political science of education.