As contextually hinted here in the sentence "1838 – "Instead of having treed their game....", the meaning of possibly rarely-known phrase "tree his/her/someone's/their game" has some positive meaning like "mastering the game", which if not realized, it suggests futile and ignorant efforts or course of action(barking up wrong tree).

Now this usage of the word "tree", I haven't come across even after much efforted searching of it's phrases' list or origins.

Can someone confirm whether the contextually hinted meaning is correct and accurate and also explain when and by what origin, the word "tree" was used to suggest positive meaning hinting "mastered/well-understood their game" ?

  • 1
    "Game" here refers to animals being hunted. If the animal is "treed" it has climbed into a tree.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 13, 2020 at 22:42

2 Answers 2


Both expressions likely come from English fox hunting. The hunter (usually on a horse) would have several dogs which would seek out and pursue a fox, with the purpose of tiring it or cornering it so that the hunter could shoot it. (Note that I may be a little off on the details of fox hunting here.)

If the fox chose to scamper up a tree it was said to be "treed". Usually the dogs would then circle the bottom of the tree, barking at it. But sometimes the dogs would mistake which tree the fox went up, or the fox would leap from the first tree to another, leaving the dogs "barking up the wrong tree".

While these terms are used metaphorically in many different circumstances, the origins have nothing to do with "games" that are "played" (eg, cricket). Rather, "game" refers to animals that are being hunted.

  • I'm sure you are correct as to the meaning of the word, but it doesn't apply to foxhunting. Foxes escaped the hounds by going underground; they can't climb trees (and they weren't shot). Wikipedia suggests a reference to raccoons in the US. Dec 14, 2020 at 8:47
  • @KateBunting - You may be right.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 14, 2020 at 13:42

I'd say MW's second entry on the verb "tree"—

to put into a position of extreme disadvantage : CORNER
especially : to bring to bay

is the closest meaning that would make [any] sense in the context. The frame of the same verb here is being taken negatively, as opposed to your perceived context.

So essentially, "Instead of having treed their game..." could imply that instead of having cornered their game, or instead of owning their game, the gentlemen will still find themselves barking up the wrong tree (had they not done [something] in a specific way).

  • 1
    You're barking up the wrong tree.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 13, 2020 at 22:57
  • @HotLicks there's nothing 'wrong' in a different interpretation. Moreover, you haven't given an explanation as to why it can be wrong.
    – Noaman Ali
    Dec 14, 2020 at 8:26
  • 1
    Why the downvote? This seems correct to me. Dec 14, 2020 at 8:52
  • The problem is that this does not explain "game", and knowing what that word means is key to the idiom.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 14, 2020 at 13:44
  • 1
    I too interpreted the OP's reference to 'mastering the game' as suggesting that they were thinking of something that you play. Dec 14, 2020 at 15:27

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