50+ Idioms – The Animals Keep Talking

Last week, I mentioned in the blog A Dozen Idioms – Who Said Animals Can’t Talk that I was going to share some more idiomatic expressions about animals in this week’s blog.  You know some about cats, dogs, monkeys, mice, rats, sheep and goats, wolves and even a few more concerning horses and pigs.

Well, I was surprised that there are at least 25 idiomatic expressions just related to cats alone.  So, I think I’ll start with these.  After all, there seems to be an abundance of cat owners in the world.  Current research reveals 47 million cats in Europe …1/4 of Australian households owning cats … 5 million people in the UK own cats, and in Canada, there are a million more cat-owners than dog-owners.

Well, maybe you have heard a few of these idiomatic expressions.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to use a few in your everyday conversation.  And, you’ll be able to understand what others are saying when they say such things as …

alley cat (stray cat) A cat that does not belong to anyone is called an alley cat.  These cats roam around at night and beg for food from any place they can get it.  Alley cats could live in an “alley”, but chances are they live elsewhere. I saw an alley cat cross the road when I drove to the store late last night.

as conceited as a barber's cat (vain; self-centered) If you were indeed the barber’s cat, you could get a ‘trim’ anytime so you always look your best.  After placing first three years in a row in the monthly sales, John became as conceited as a barber’s cat.

as weak as a kitten (not strong; sickly) My grandmother needs help moving those boxes.  She is as weak as a kitten.

cat burglar (clever burglar) The paper says there was a break-in last night at the jewelry store. The cat burglar stole over $1 million dollars in jewels.

cat gets one`s tongue (shy; quiet; not talkative) In the court testimony, the witness barely spoke. The judge asked, “What’s wrong?  Did the cat get your tongue?”

a cat has nine lives (a survivor) Mark was in yet another car accident and although the car was totaled, he walked away without even a scratch on himself. He’s a cat with nine lives!

a cat in gloves catches no mice (too careful; timid and polite so you don’t get what you intended or wanted) My brother did not get the promotion at work.  I told him he needed to be more focused and aggressive in the office.  I reminded him that a cat in gloves catches no mice.

a cat nap (a short nap) I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. so I needed a cat nap this afternoon.

a cat on a hot tin roof (full of energy) My youngest son was like a cat on a hot tin roof from the first day of summer vacation until the last.

a copycat (someone who copies someone else) I had a creative slogan for the campaign, and then Mr. Jones was a copycat and stole my idea.

curiosity kills the cat (being too curious or nosy gets you into trouble of some kind) My sister wanted to snoop on her boyfriend’s phone and read his text messages, but I told her that curiosity kills the cat, so that was not a good idea.

fight like cats and dog (fighting)  The siblings fought like cats and dogs until they were in their twenties, and then they became best friends.

a fraidy-cat (someone who frightens easily; ‘chicken’); a scaredy-cat No matter what, I would not climb the tower.  I was a fraidy cat, a scaredy-cat, and I did not care.

grin like a Cheshire cat (to smile widely) For Donna’s birthday, Fred gave her the long-awaited engagement ring and she was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

let the cat out of the bag (to tell a secret) I must be careful what I tell my co-workers, especially Mary.  She always lets the cat out of the bag.  And I don’t want anyone to know.

looks like something the cat dragged in (to look worn down; tired and unkempt) It was a  l-o-n-g night and I only got two hours of sleep.  When I went to work I am sure I looked like something the cat dragged in.

looks like the cat that swallowed/ate the canary (appears that someone had great success because if a cat swallowed a canary you would see the bulge in its throat; easily noticeable) Dad came home tonight and he was grinning from ear-to-ear.  Mom could only guess that he was given the long-awaited raise, after all. Dad looked like the cat that swallowed the canary!

not enough room to swing a cat (not enough space; crowded) It was my first apartment, but it was so small … there wasn’t enough room to swing a cat.

play cat and mouse with (to tease or fool; to change types of behavior when around someone) My boss enjoyed playing cat and mouse about the projected monthly goals so it was hard to know what really was the truth.

put the cat among the pigeons (to cause trouble) I submitted my proposal and had to defend it in front of a panel of five supervisors who really didn’t believe in the point of spending more money on something they did not think would benefit the company in the long run.  I was put in that room like a cat among pigeons.  And they kept me there a good hour.

rain cats and dogs (raining hard) The storm front came through and it was raining cats and dogs!

there is more than one way to skin a cat (there is more than one way) I tried the diet and I could not lose weight, so tomorrow I am hitting the gym. There is more than one way to skin a cat, you know!

when the cat's away, the mice will play (when the authoritative person is away, the others will goof around) When my parents went to the movies, my brother and I decided to stay up late and eat lots of junk food.  We figured that when the cat’s away, the mice will play.  And, boy, did we play!Then I got to thinking … how many idioms are related to dogs?  Well, I discovered

at least 25 idiomatic expressions for dogs, too.  I knew you might be interested in a few of these . . .

as clean as a hound's tooth (very clean) My mother kept her apartment as clean as a hound’s tooth

.as crooked as a dog's hind leg (not honest; not trustworthy) The sales pitch was as crooked as a dog’s leg and I am glad that you could see that.

as sick as a dog (very, very sick) The whole family had the flu and we were as sick as a dog for a week.

one's bark is worse than one's bite (someone’s talk –words and tone of words – is worse than what he/she actually does) Dad was angry when I did not come home before midnight but his bark is worse than his bite.  By morning, he had forgotten about the whole incident and I was not grounded, after all.

bark up the wrong tree (to look for the wrong thing; to think or choose the wrong course of action, etc. because a hunting dog may make a mistake when chasing and animal and it may bark up the wrong tree) The detective was barking up the wrong tree when he thought the suspect was guilty, but then the suspect proved that he had an alibi and he was not near the crime scene.

better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion (better to be a leader of a small group than a follower of a big group) Margaret was the leading real estate agent and always thought that it was better to stay in a small agency and achieve that award than to move to a larger agency and to be under a lot of other agents or to have to start at the bottom. Let’s face it.  In this case, Margaret thought it was better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.

call the dogs off or call off the dogs (hunting dogs need to be called off a hunt so this expression means to stop chasing or looking) The detective decided to call the dogs off and look for more clues tomorrow.

dog and pony show (to show off; to impress and not be genuine) After the dog and pony show, the boss needed to really think if the ad agency could do the job in the amount of time required or did they just say they could?

dog-eat-dog world (cut throat; to do anything to get what you want) It was a dog-eat-dog world on Wall Street and so I gave up the job as a stock trader.  I’m a lot happier now as a teacher.

every dog has his day (everyone gets a chance or turn; everyone gets what he deserves) It is a shame that he has to mistreat his co-workers, but every dog will have his day and I’m sure that the boss will notice these negative interactions soon.

go to the dogs (to become bad or worse; to deteriorate; to rot) The inner cities have gone to the dogs and it is a shame that more money is not put into keeping the cities updated.

to hound (to look for; to chase or pursue; to harass someone) I was tired of my boss hounding me about the deadline so I stayed late last night at work to finish the project.

in the doghouse (in trouble) Mr. Jones was in the doghouse when he forgot his wife’s birthday.

let sleeping dogs lie (if something is okay, leave it that way; if something is over, forget about it) It was important to let sleeping dogs lie and not bring up the argument again with my in-laws.

put on the dog (dress up or entertain in an extravagant manner) We put on the dog at the holiday party when we invited the neighbors over for a catered dinner.

rub the fur the wrong way (irritate; bother) I am sorry to say that my sister rubs my fur the wrong way when she comes to visit for two weeks each summer and so I am so happy when the visit is over.

a shaggy dog story (a long, pointless story that is often told as a joke that ends expectantly or humorously) My  husband came home from fishing and he told me a shaggy dog story once again about the fish that he just could not catch.

one's tail between one`s legs (cowardly; frightened; acting like a dog who walks away when it is sad or defeated or scared) The entry level worker walked away from the meeting with his tail between his legs after the supervisor commented on his poor performance in front of everyone there.

the tail wagging the dog (when a small thing seems to be controlling the whole thing or when something unimportant takes up all of the time and attention rather than the more important thing; when something shouldn’t happen this way as the dog wags the tail and not the other way around) When one customer complained, it seemed like the tail wagging the dog and the product was taken off of the shelf.

top dog (the most important person in that situation) My dad was top dog at home and my sister was top dog out of all of us children. But I was top dog in the computer club.

turn tail (run away from) John decided to turn tail out of the house when his mother made comments about all the work that needed to be done around the house.

work like a dog (to work extremely hard) Everyone in our company works like a dog and I am sure the boss notices.

you can't teach an old dog new tricks (it is difficult for older people or someone who has not done it before to learn new tricks because that is what some people think) My grandmother just learned to text message, so who said you can’t teach a dog new tricks?_____________________________________________________________________________

Whew! Some of these expressions I have heard before and some I didn’t.  Maybe that’s the same for you. Remember, you can always write to me using the comments section below and share your thoughts about this blog … have you heard any of these expressions before?  Did you try to use any this week? You don’t need to work like a dog, just try a few in every day conversation.  I’m confident you can do that. Think, you can teach an old dog new tricks, you really can.

I’ll be sending your way some expressions that relate to monkeys, mice, rats, sheep and goats, wolves and even a few more concerning horses and pigs/hogs soon. Until then, don’t’ let the cat get your tongue. Just go out there and speak English. I’m confident you can do that, too.

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