The Tail Wagging the Dog
(And now we have two things to explain, don't we!)
A Dundrearyism was a type of humorous saying made up from crashing together two unrelated sayings in a silly way, or by reversing its meaning -- like "a stitch in time never boils" or "birds of a feather gather no moss." They were a brief fad among fashionable U.S. theater-goers in the 1850's.
The name came from the character in a popular stage play of the time, Lord Dundreary, who was prone to such sayings. (Side note: This play will forever be remembered as the one President Lincoln was attending when he was assassinated.)
So. Back to the tail wagging the dog. First, it's meaning: it's often used to describe the reversal of proper roles, like a child disciplining a parent or a patient diagnosing for a doctor. Or a minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole thing.
(in the video above, the tail really is wagging the whole dog!)
It's first known use in print is from an April 1872 edition of The Daily Republican ( a Decatur, Illinois newspaper) where an op-ed piece stated:
"Calling to mind Lord Dundreary's conundrum, the Baltimore American thinks that for the Cincinnati Convention to control the Democratic party would be the tail wagging the dog."
Shortly thereafter, the phrase crept into all sorts of American literature, including Kipling's poem, The Conundrum of the Workshops:
"We know that the tail must wag the dog, for the horse is drawn by the cart."
"tail wagging the dog, the." The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Houghton Mifflin Company. 05 Jul. 2013. As seen on Dictionary.com
Kipling's "The Conundrum of the Workshops," 1890
Oxford Dictionary Book of Quotations
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