Fifty Animal Idioms

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One of the reasons English is so difficult to learn is because it is a language full of idioms. An idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from the actual definitions of the words used. There are an estimated 25,000 idioms in the English language - and many of them feature animals!

  1. dropping like flies - dying or collapsing in large numbers / giving up on or pulling out of an endeavour in large numbers
  2. fly on the wall - an unnoticed witness
  3. fly in the ointment - a small problem which nonetheless spoils the whole plan
  4. ants in your pants / antsy - agitated or restless due to nervousness or excitement
  5. to make a beeline - to move swiftly and directly towards something or someone
  6. bee’s knees - an excellent person or thing – of the highest quality (see cat’s pyjamas)
  7. birds and the bees - a euphemism for sex education – the basic facts about reproduction as told to a child
  8. a little bird(y) told me - told by a secret informant
  9. to kill two birds with one stone - to accomplish two objectives at once.
  10. bird’s-eye view - view from above
  11. as the crow flies - in a straight line
  12. dead as a dodo - unmistakably dead
  13. sitting duck - an easy target, vulnerable to attack
  14. to chicken out - to opt out of doing something because of being frightened
  15. wild goose chase - an absurd or pointless mission
  16. pecking order - the social hierarchy
  17. cock and bull story - a far-fetched and unlikely story
  18. to take the bull by its horns - to directly confront a problem
  19. Holy cow! - an exclamation of surprise or shock
  20. until the cows come home - for a long, indefinite, amount of time
  21. to horse around - to behave in a playful but silly and noisy manner
  22. dark horse - a less well-known competitor or candidate who succeeds to an unexpectedly high level
  23. Hold your horses! - an expression requesting someone to wait a moment/hold on/slow down
  24. straight from the horse’s mouth - directly from the best-informed authority
  25. donkey work - the boring/gruelling part of a job
  26. to go stag - to go to an event (as a male) without a partner
  27. scapegoat - a person or group unfairly blamed for something that they have not done
  28. in two shakes of a lamb’s tail - in a very short amount of time
  29. to go the whole hog - to fully commit to an act
  30. pig-out - a session of excessive eating
  31. catnap - a short sleep during the day
  32. cat’s pyjamas - an excellent person or thing – of the highest quality (see bee’s knees)
  33. to let the cat out of the bag - to expose a secret
  34. cat call - a shrill shout or whistle expressing disapproval (see wolf whistle)
  35. Cat got your tongue? - a question directed to someone who is being unusually silent
  36. raining cats and dogs - raining heavily
  37. to let sleeping dogs lie - to avoid interfering with a situation so as not to cause trouble
  38. in the dog house - in disgrace/trouble
  39. hair of the dog - an alcoholic beverage consumed to cure a hangover
  40. dog eat dog - a phrase used to describe a situation which is competitive to the point that people are willing to harm/undermine each other in order to succeed
  41. rat race - a situation in which people are fiercely competitive for wealth or power
  42. to smell a rat - to suspect a trick/lie
  43. fishy - suspicious
  44. to have bigger/other fish to fry - to have better things to do
  45. a different kettle of fish - an entirely different thing
  46. red herring - an intentionally misleading clue or piece of information
  47. crocodile tears - fake or insincere tears
  48. wolf whistle - a whistle or call with a rising and falling pitch which expresses admiration but in a predatory, victimising manner (see catcall)
  49. elephant in the room - an obvious and usually uncomfortable truth that remains unaddressed
  50. to get the lion’s share - to receive the largest portion


24 Mar 2014
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