I am a non-native speaker from Germany. In German there's one idiom that goes:

Sich die Eier schaukeln

Literally translated, this means "to rock the eggs", where "the eggs" are testicles. This is used to express severe boredom, especially to describe procrastinating or one's state of mind when you should be appointed to a task, but aren't.

It is somewhat vulgar as it involves testicles, yet it is a widely used idiom which would not actually be perceived as an inappropriate thing to say in general.

I searched for a translation that would fit and found:

fucked the dog

(from Urban Dictionary). Now I would like to know if this is actually a common thing to say and whether there are any alternatives that are more suitable for daily use.

  • 44
    screwed the pooch is the idiom in AmE. But it means to bungle something.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 11:48
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    I have never heard fuck the dog (or indeed screw the pooch) to describe hanging around, procrastinating, doing nothing when you ought to be doing something else. So at least in my personal experience, it’s definitely not common. Sich die Eier schaukeln seems quite similar to twiddling one’s thumbs, though I’m not sure if the implication is quite the same—procrastination is not usually an inherent factor in twiddling one’s thumbs. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 11:56
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    We're treading water.... can mean we're hanging around waiting for something to do, or waiting for something to take place or for some decision to be made before we can get to work ourselves.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 11:58
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    Actually, come to think of it, a direct translation could work in some cases: scratching your balls tends to imply at least boredom, if not exactly procrastination, and definitely carries the same connotations as the German phrase. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 12:02
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    Fucking the dog meaning wasting time is at the very least a current Canadian idiom. If you used it to mean bungled the job here, you'd be sorely misunderstood.
    – bye
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 22:35

7 Answers 7


"Fuck the dog" (or its milder variant, "screw the pooch") comes from an old joke.

There are various versions, but a drunk man ends up shooting the wife and screwing the pooch (instead of the other way around).


It is certainly not about idleness, but epic failure to get a sequence right. Janus Bahs Jacquet's suggestion of using the literal translation of your German idiom is probably a lot closer to the mark for what you need. If you want something a little more sanitized, try "scratching our backsides*" (or use another body part to replace "balls").

*originally I had "heads" here, but Janus points out that that strays into a different meaning.

  • 1
    @PeterShor: Evidence is all over the Web, but I can tell you that I personally heard this particular joke many times growing up, well before there was an Internet. So when I first heard the abstracted phrase "screw the pooch" there was no doubt where it came from.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 12:42
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    Substituting the balls for the head doesn’t seem like the best option—scratching your head has quite a different meaning (puzzlement, bewilderment). You might say scratching our back sides, which I’d say is perhaps more euphemised than sanitised, but should still be usable. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 14:04
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    I've never heard fuck the dog in any context. Screw the pooch is widely used, though (and I didn't know it came from a dirty joke :P). Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 14:11
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    Agreeing with @PeterCordes that I've never heard "fuck the dog" in any context. Adding that I'm an American.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 0:06
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    I have heard the more alliterative "dicking the dog" applied to workers who were not working.
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 0:32

If you want an idiom that's still mildly vulgar, but still gets used in daily speech:

"We are just sitting here with our thumbs in our asses, (waiting for something to do)"

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    On ELL one would be asked Does that mean each person has both thumbs up the ass, or is it one thumb per ass per person, or some mixture thereof?
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 14:34
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    @TimRomano My favorite version of it is, you have one thumb in your ass and one in your mouth, and then play "switch". (n.b. this is my favorite version of the saying. not my favorite idle pastime.)
    – Hellion
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 17:14
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    An even less vulgar version is "thumbs up our butts." Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 17:23
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    +1, this is pretty close to the original phrase, but I would expect "thumbs up our asses". Same thing.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 0:00
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    None of these are mild enough to risk offending others, and care should be taken in professional environments lest one experience negative repercussion from careless usage.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 17:53

If you wanted to capture the spirit of the German, you could say

We're just sitting here playing with ourselves while upper management is deciding which approach to take.


I'm not doing much of anything, just sitting here playing with myself.

In a workplace context, it would not be taken literally. :)

P.S. It's not the sort of thing men would typically say in mixed company at the office, however. Though I imagine that it could be said, given the right personalities. You might hear female military personnel saying this, for example, "co-opting" male lingo.

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    Depends on the office. At one of my jobs, it would be perfectly commonplace for both men and women to say this—including its more vulgar varieties. ;-) Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 12:10
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    In many US offices, one could get reprimanded or fired for using language like this in mixed company. We're very PC here, and our HR departments are havens for the humorless.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 12:15

The commonest expression I can think of to express boredom is "to twiddle one's thumbs". "Screwing the pooch", while an idiom, has an entirely different meaning: to spectacularly mess up, usually in an embarrasingly public way.

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    I'm surprised this is so far down, it seems like the best match.
    – BOMEz
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 15:06

I don't know how commonplace it is, but the phrase jerking around is what I would use in this situation:

"Quit jerking around and do something productive!"

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    I always thought that jerking around would involve stupid jokes and/or childish behaviour? Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 17:02
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    @Sprottenwels: You may be correct. Perhaps it doesn't apply as accurately as I thought. Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 17:03
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    +1, I'm familiar with this usage, and similar ones such as "quit screwing around", "quit fucking around".
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 0:01
  • In my experience "jerking around" is incorrect, it would be "jerking off". To be "jerked around" means to be forced by another to go through meaningless steps (that on the surface have the appearance of legitimacy or effectiveness) with the purpose of delaying or blocking one's own aims.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 17:55
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    @ErikE "To be jerked around" and "to jerk around" are different, though. The latter is the same as "to jerk off" in the sense of messing around. Lots of examples. Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 1:04

If you're looking for something non-vulgar that conveys the same meaning, try

"Loafing around"


"Goofing off"

Other more specific phrases might be "Holding up the wall" or "Keeping the bench warm".

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    "Keeping the bench warm" and the similar "riding the pine" carry the implication that the idleness is involuntary and due to a perceived lack of ability. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 12:46
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    That's why I said they were more specific - without knowing the context this needs to be used in, it's hard to say what would be most appropriate. Anyhow, just pointing out that there's any number of non-vulgar alternatives to this phrase depending on the situation. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 13:41

The past tense does not sound right to me, but a version of this term was actually used in Canada ca. 1980 and I'm fairly sure it would be understood today.

Q: "What are you up to?"

A: "Just f*cking the dog."

The meaning was that the person was idle or engaged in pointless or useless activities.

Source: personal experience

  • 3
    I don't know how things go in Canada, but I'm pretty sure this wouldn't translate the way you're thinking it would in the U.S..
    – Iszi
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 14:20
  • @Iszi Obviously, I'm aware of the shocking literal interpretation. Personally, I wouldn't use it in Canada, let alone a foreign country in which the natives communicate in a range of different dialects, but the comment above by @ bye confirms my memory. Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 15:27
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    I'll agree with this. In my experience the expression would be well understood as such in many parts of Canada. It seems more common in rural areas and among somewhat older speakers. There may also be an East/West bias (possibly more common in Eastern Canada).
    – J...
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 11:02
  • As a Canadian living in Ontario I've never heard this expression. Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 17:07
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 I mentioned it to a fairly recent South African immigrant, and he said he's heard it more than once from older native-born Canadians. Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 17:10

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