Let’s get one thing straight. Whether you’re leading someone up the garden path or down it, you’re doing something wrong.
This phrase dates from the early 1900s. It means to deceive someone or to send people misleading signals.
For example, imagine that a friend starts talking about her amazing car. She might tell you how well it runs, how sharp the color is, and what great mileage it gets. She might tell you how sad she is that she has to sell it. How she wishes it could go to a friend.
If that car is really a junker, your friend is leading you down the garden path. In other words, she’s trying to trick you! She’s dropping leading messages in front of you, one by one. She wants you to innocently follow them until you do exactly what she wants: pay good money for her bad car.
You can lead people up or down the garden path, but either way, you’re deceiving them.
Not a nice friend.
Back to our original question: Is she leading you up the garden path or down it? Actually, she could be doing either.
Both phrases have been used consistently over the past century. The up phrase is used more frequently in the United Kingdom, while the down phrase is used more frequently in the United States. But both are correct.
So here’s your tidbit for the day: you can lead people up or down the garden path. But either way, you’re deceiving them.
Ammer, Christine. Lead down the garden path. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Ayto, John. Garden, lead someone up the garden path. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2010.
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