Okay, as promised … the remaining idioms I have researched that are related to animals: monkeys, mice, pigs, lambs and goats, and wolves. Maybe you will find a few of these idioms to use in your everyday speech or better understand an idiom or two when others speak to you. Hopefully, too, you’ll get a chuckle over how some of these idioms sound and just how they are applied to people and situation. I know I sure did.
- Monkey see, monkey do (you ask someone to do as you say). Example: In a meeting, the manager says monkey see, monkey do to indicate you are to copy exactly his directions. The expression can be a positive expression if you really want someone to “copy” you. It can also be a negative expression if someone “copies” something they should not. Maybe they steal an idea or take the credit.
- Get the monkey off his back (a serious problem that stops someone or something from being successful). Example: Whew! I finally got the monkey off my back when I completed the long overdue project. This can be a good thing and a good feeling if you want to end the problem. It can be a bad thing if you do not want others to know.
- Make a monkey out of myself (to make someone make foolish). Example: I made a monkey out of myself when I didn’t know how to send the email. This can be seen as something that does not really matter or it can be a big deal if you are self-conscious and you really feel embarrassed about the activity.
- Monkey business (unethical or illegal activity; mischief). Example: On Hank’s birthday, his department sent him emails all day long. He finally realized the monkey business was just good fun and took his department out for drinks. This can be all in good fun or it can be more serious.
- As poor as a church mouse (very poor). Example: The Company’s report indicated it was as poor as a church mouse this year. Let’s face it; it is never that great to be poor.
- Be quiet as a mouse (very quiet, shy). Example: My co-worker Jim is as quiet as a mouse in staff meetings. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just an observance or a fact.
- The best-laid plans of mice and men (the best thought-plans that anyone could make). Example: The marketing department’s 5-year strategic initiative is the best-laid plan of mice and men. Having plans is a good thing, but this expression shows that despite these plans and the time planning something, it just did not work out well.
- Rat on (someone)/rat out on (to report someone’s bad behavior to someone; to desert or betray someone). Example: My colleague ratted on me when I left work early last week. The team leader Sam ratted out on his project members by not showing up for the presentation. This is not a positive expression and probably not a good trait to have.
- Rat race (a rushed and confusing way of living that does not seem to have a purpose). Example: Working on the trading floor on Wall Street was a rat race every day of the year. I don’t know about you, but living in this way, is not the healthiest or happiest way to live despite our world becoming faster-paced.
- Smell a rat (to be suspicious of someone or something; to feel something is wrong). Example: When I heard that the company would no longer have the employee stock options as promised, I could immediately smell a rat. If you do this you are not “bad”, but the “rat” sure might be.
- To go all hog (to do everything possible). Example: When the company lost their profit margin, they went all hog to increase sales. This is not seen as bad; in fact the effort given is admirable.
- To go hog wild (to behave wildly). Example: At the company party, the boss went hog wild over the music and the dancing. Again, depending on the situation, this could be a very good thing. Now, you wouldn’t want to overspend or overdo something that is not healthy, but lots of other things would be great if you “went hog wild”.
- In a pig’s eye/when pigs fly (unlikely; not so; never). Example: You won’t be getting a raise in a pig’s eye. Or, you won’t be getting a raise until the pigs fly. There are many things that will rarely or never happen. That’s the perfect time to use this expression.
- Buy a pig in a poke (to buy something without seeing it or without knowing anything about it). Example: I asked the secretary to order me a new computer. It was like buying a pig in a poke for me. This is not necessarily bad, just a fact. But sometimes it is probably better to see the items before you purchase them.
- Cast pearls before swine (to waste something on someone who will not be thankful or care about it). Example: Nora’s friend did not send her flowers anymore because he was tired of casting pearls before swine. Apparently there must be some reason to use this expression. It is never good to be unappreciative.
- Make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (to create something of value from something of no value). Example: My grandfather started the printing company from scratch that made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. This can be a very good thing. It shows us that there are endless possibilities. You should not give up. You can make the most of any situation. In contemporary terms it means “give someone lemons and they’ll make lemonade; or to look at a glass half full opposed to looking at a glass half empty.” It means to look at the situation positively and to make something out of “nothing”.
- Piggyback (sitting or being carried on someone’s back and shoulders; to connect and go off of other ideas). Example: We brainstormed how to improve customer service piggybacked Linda’s idea of gift certificates. This expression could mean to jump on someone’s back and get a ride like a parent gives a child. It could mean just triggering other ideas as in the example of brainstorming. They are both fun things to do and make something easier. (i.e. being carried instead of walking and generating ideas).
- Road hog (a car driver who used more than his share of the road). Example: Mr. Jones was a road hog on the way to work. This is not a good thing to be.
- As innocent/meek as a lamb (having no guilt, naïve, quiet, docile). Example: The college graduate was as innocent as a lamb when it came to his job responsibilities. We all know someone who acts this way. Or perhaps different situations lend themselves to acting like this.
- Black sheep of the family/other group (the worst or the most unpopular of a family or other group). Example: David Jones, the IT professional was the black sheep of the department. This is generally not a good thing. It is okay to be different, but the connotation is negative with being “bad” for some reason or “unpopular” because of some behavior, etc.
- Get someone’s goat (to annoy someone). Example: All the phone calls from telemarketers sure are getting my goat. It is probably not a good idea to “get someone’s goat” but we all have annoyances in our lifetime.
- Separate the sheep from the goats (to divide people into two groups to make a comparison). Example: The online instructor was able to separate the sheep from the goats when she checked their vocabulary quizzes. This is not just to put into two groups, but to offer a comparison of one group to another to make a point or to show own group is superior/better to another group for any given reason.
- Cry wolf (to give false alarm, to warn of a danger that is not there). Example: The insurance agent cried wolf when he told everyone they needed increased collision insurance. This is not a good thing because if you are familiar with the fable, if you “cry wolf” too often, when you finally need help, no one might listen.
- Keep the wolf from the door (to maintain oneself at the most basic level). Example: My friend’s part-time job is enough for him to keep the wolf from the door. It is a good thing to do but it shows that the person is on the brink of trouble or disaster.
- Keep the wolves at bay (to fight against some kind of trouble). Example: Many people are angry about the increase in taxes so the local government must work hard to keep the wolves at bay. It is not really good or bad, it shows the action that is being taken against something.
- A lone wolf (someone who prefers to spend time alone and may have few friends). Example: Her uncle in France is a lone wolf and spends most of the day inside reading. Again, this is not good or bad, it is used to describe what someone perceives about another.
- Throw someone to the wolf (to send someone into danger without protection; to sacrifice someone). Example: The salesman decided to throw his co-worker to the wolf when he asked him to greet the unhappy customer. This is not a good thing to do or a good thing to feel. This expression means in contemporary terms “to throw someone under the bus”. How would that make you feel?
- A wolf in sheep’s clothing (a person who pretends to be good, but who is really bad). Example: Everyone knew that Mary was a wolf in sheep’s clothing because she would smile in the meetings but talked behind people’s backs. Again, this is not a good thing. You should be yourself and be genuine, and not pretend to be something you are not.
Do write to me using the comments below and let me know if you know of any more idioms that are influenced by animals. Have you heard any of these before? Is one of them your favorite?
I know that it might be the best-laid plans of mice and men, but try to use one of these idioms in your conversational speech or in your writing this week. You don’t have to go hog wild. Just start with one and see what happens. You might want to look at some of the other articles on idioms related to animals by visiting the links below.