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Animal Idioms in English


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The English language has many idioms that involve animals in some way.  Some of them are quite colorful.  What are some of the ones you have heard of and that are your favorites?

Here are a few for starters.

"The lion's share" -- The larger or better part of something. 

"He got the lion's share of the attention at the party."

"Let sleeping dogs lie" -- Avoid starting trouble, or leave something as it is.

"He was going to bring up the topic at the meeting, but he decided to let sleeping dogs lie."

"Let the cat out of the bag" -- Telling a secret.

"We weren't going to announce the trip, but my cousin let the cat out of the bag."

Please add to the list! :)

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Here are some other common ones:

Ants in your pants -- used to describe people who can't sit still

Raining cats and dogs -- when it's raining super hard

A wolf in a sheep's fur -- a person who looks nice, but is actually very mean or wicked.

Eyes like a hawk -- someone with really good eyesight

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"The early bird gets the worm" -- if you're early and punctual, you will reap the rewards.

"Crocodile tears" -- feigning sincere grief.

"A frog in [one's] throat" -- feeling hoarseness or a lump in one's throat.

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"like a fox in a hen house"- someone or thing out of place.  I have heard it also used when a male is involved in a primarily female activity

"straight from the horse's mouth"-direct information from a reliable or original source

and from my reply to another thread about creatures and items from the sea, the other half fits here

"pearls before swine"-wasting something of value on those who will not appreciate it.

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"If you lie with dogs, you will get up with fleas."

I have heard two meanings. The first one is if you hang out with a certain crowd, others will believe you are like them. The second is a warning: If you do dangerous things, don't be surprised of the consequences.

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I have always been amused by the old aphorism, "the early bird gets the worm." It is used primarily to encourage initiative and industriousness in working on a project. But it has a rather large flaw. While the early bird does, indeed, get the worm,  the early worm would have been well-advised to sleep in.

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curiosity killed the cat- being too nosy may lead a person into trouble

Forget what you heard, remember curiosity killed the cat.

eat like a horse- eat a lot

His cousin eat like a horse.

hit the bulls-eye- reach the main point

I guess he hits the bulls-eye with the report he submitted.

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  • 1 month later...

Change horse in midstream: to make new plans or choose a new leader in the middle of an important activity.

Eat like a horse: eat a lot

Every dog has its own day: everyone will have his chance or turn; everyone will get what he deserves

Hit the bull’s eye: reach the main point

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  • 6 months later...

Eat like a horse- To be always eating something.

To feel like a fish out of water- to be unwell or somewhat out of place.

Wolf in sheep clothing- A not so nice person disguising him/her as a good person.

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  • 3 months later...

Catlike reflexes - a bit literal, but cats are super quick to react. A cat's reflexes are pretty good.

Quick as a cat or Quiet as a cat - Also pretty literal and self-explanatory, but cats are really quiet and move pretty fast.

Yeah I'm pretty fond of cats :grin:

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Sweating like a pig is one, which from what I understand is ironic because pigs don't sweat at all. I may be wrong though. My personal favorite, however, is crazy like a fox, and I don't understand it at all since I don't know what it is about foxes that are crazy, but I just like the way the phrase sounds in general.

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I always use "birds of the same feather flock together" during casual conversations. It means that people with similar personalities tend to stick together.

"Bitten by the bug" means if you develop a sudden interest or enthusiasm for something, then you are bitten by the bug.

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  • 4 weeks later...

This is what comes to my mind "one swallow does not a summer make" which is an expression apparently coined by Aristotle which is a sort of a warning for you should not assume that something is true just because you have seen one piece of evidence for it.

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You got me here! I can't seem to think of many off the top of my head but here goes;

"You are walking at a snails pace"

A leopard never changes its spots

It's a dogs life

You are like a rabbit in a hole

That's all that I can think of now, used to have many in my head and seem to have forgotten about the use of them.

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- "A bird in a hand is worth two in the bush", meaning that is better to stick to the one thing you have than to get lost looking at things that you don't have.

- "like a bat out of hell", meaning something going really, really fast.

An then there are all the different types of animal droppings that are used with different meanings. For example "bulls..." or "horses..." to mean "lie", or "going apes..." to mean going really mad.

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  • 8 months later...
  • 1 month later...

The idiom "grab the bull by the horns" means to take risks about something.  It can also mean confronting the problem head-on, and avoid turning away from the challenge.  There's also another idiom I've heard, "put the coyote in the chicken coop," which means to bring about, invite, or seek trouble.  Literally, it means to have the coyote or some other predator eat the chickens.

I've also read these animal idioms as well, and I find them really interesting to use in describing various situations. 

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How about "He ran out of the room like a rat up a drainpipe", meaning that he ran out of the room very quickly indeed! There's also "monkeying around" which means someone is behaving in a very silly manner, much like a monkey would do.

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Idioms are so interesting! I love hearing translations from other countries and trying to figure out their origins!

Some that I like/use:

1. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sows ear.

This is an adage by  the 18th century prose satirist: Jonathan Swift It basically means to use good materials to produce quality products. (This can be literal or figurative)

2. Backing the wrong horse.

Can be used as a warning when someone is supporting a position/argument that can be discredited:

"As he confirmed what his friend had told the cop, which she knew was a lie, she whispered an aside she hoped he could hear from there :Best be careful; you are backing the wrong horse." 


In a situation where the expected outcome is not what a person wanted: "Well, your candidate lost by a landslide!! Looks like you backed the wrong horse!." 

It dates back to the 1600's and is rooted in horse racing.

3. What the cat dragged in!

Can be a negative or a positive depending on use.

Cats generally drag in messy dead things so it can be used that way as in:

"After her long trek, she was disheveled and dirty and basically looked like something the cat dragged in."

Cats are usually offering these "gifts" to their masters to prove their worth and show affection so it can be used in a positive way. It is usually reserved for family or at least someone you are on familiar terms with!

"He grabbed her as she entered the room before she could even drop her bag exclaiming "Look what the cat dragged in!" She immediately felt like she was part of the family."

I'm Having fun reading these!

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