a brand-new expression, introduced into the English language on February 21, 2003 by the Financial Times, who described it as a Swedish import on par with IKEA and Volvo and "the most memorable line since ABBA." Doing a whole poodle is a device mainly available to politicians in deep trouble with the public. Doing a whole poodle involves publicly dressing in sackcloth and ashes, confessing to all of the wrongdoings, and on TV putting on the most remorseful, conscience-stricken and self-reproaching act imaginable. The metaphor refers to the cute behavior of ashamed poodles, who lie on their backs with all four paws wiggling skyward, in a binge of utterly loveable humility.

Background: When a politician or similarly prominent public figure is caught red-handed with something that the public perceives as wrongdoing, he/she can choose between three different career-saving options:

  • denying any knowledge whatsoever of any wrongdoing
  • confessing, but trying to justify his/her unjustifiable actions
  • doing a whole poodle

The first person known to have done a whole poodle was the present Swedish minister for Migration and Foreign Aid, Jan O Karlsson. Karlsson had thrown a crayfish-party at his home for a number of political friends, but had billed the costs (equivalent to a measly $400) to his department. This caused a public outcry in the staunchly egalitarian-minded Swedish society, particularly as it had been recently revealed that Jan O Karlsson did not only receive his ordinary cabinet minister's salary. Rather, it turned out that he was receiving a much larger additional sum from the EU, as a pension from an earlier EU position.

Jan O Karlsson's first attempt at rectifying the situation, in November 2002, was a disaster. He appeared before the TV-cameras, arrogantly explaining away his private party as legitimate official business. He darkly hinted that he had absolutely no intention of buying food and drink to such boring political friends, in any case not from his own pocket. And according to him, the generous EU pension stuck to him like tar and feathers - even if he wanted to stop the payments, the EU statutes would make him an internationally hunted criminal if he didn't cash in the annoying monthly checks. Journalists who had expressed a different opinion in print were uninformed idiots.

After this, the future of Jan O Karlsson as a Swedish cabinet minister looked pretty grim indeed. Swedish Prime minister Göran Persson frowned, seemingly on the verge of dropping him. So Karlsson quickly consulted with some PR consultants. Their advice resulted in "doing a whole poodle", as Pål Jebsen, CEO of the Swedish branch of Burson-Marsteller, described the device immediately after its excecution, thus coining a new international expression.

Consequently, a week later, Jan O Karlsson appeared before the TV-cameras, apologizing to the public, to the journalists, to the Heavenly Father, had he had one. This embarrassingly contrite behavior turned out to be the right medicine. Jan O Karlsson is still the Minister for Migration and Foreign Aid in the Swedish cabinet. If he has thrown any parties to friends boring enough to justify payment by the taxpayers, is not known. But he has certainly given away his cabinet minister's salary to charity (in this case to the Olof Palme Foundation), trying to get by on just his EU pension.

Remark: I tend to slightly disagree with the Financial Times regarding the translation of the Swedish expression "göra en hel pudel". The word "hel" means "whole", certainly. But in this case it is used to distinguish between a half-way measure and total commitment, like the wrestling terms "half Nelson" and "full Nelson". So I would like to modify this new addition to the English language by expressing it as "do a full poodle", instead of "do a whole poodle". But who am I to dictate what people should say in the next century and for centuries to come.


Financial Times, February 21, 2003

Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, February 22, 2003