The Idiom Connection Animal Idioms and Quizzes





Animal Idioms





Animal Idioms


act as a guinea pig

- to allow some kind of test to be performed on someone

I was not happy to act as a guinea pig for the new training material.

ahead of the pack

- to be more successful than other people who are doing the same thing as you (a pack is a group of animals like dogs or wolves who live together)

The girl studied hard all summer and was ahead of the pack when she returned to school in the autumn.

alley cat

- a stray cat

I began to feed the alley cat and now it comes to my house every day.

as awkward as a cow on roller skates

- very awkward

The little girl was as awkward as a cow on roller skates when she first began riding her bicycle.

as blind as a bat

- blind

The man is as blind as a bat and cannot see more than a small distance ahead.

as busy as a beaver

- very busy

I have been as busy as a beaver all morning.

as clean as a hound's tooth

- very clean

The classroom was as clean as a hound's tooth when the students finished cleaning it.

as conceited as a barber's cat

- very conceited, vain

My friend became as conceited as a barber's cat after she won the award at school.

as crooked as a dog's hind leg

- dishonest

The politician is as crooked as a dog's hind leg and nobody trusts him.

as drunk as a skunk

- very drunk

The man was as drunk as a skunk when he walked into the restaurant.

as fat as a pig

- very fat

The woman in the supermarket was as fat as a pig.

as gentle as a lamb

- very gentle

The girl is as gentle as a lamb when she is with her little sister.

as gruff as a bear

- gruff, unsociable

Our neighbor is as gruff as a bear when we meet him in the morning.

as hungry as a bear

- very hungry

I was as hungry as a bear when I arrived home from work.

as innocent as a lamb

- having no guilt, naive

The little girl is as innocent as a lamb and everybody loves her.

as meek as a lamb

- quiet, docile, meek

The secretary was as meek as a lamb when she went to ask her boss for a salary increase.

as nervous as a cat

- very nervous

The man was as nervous as a cat when he talked to the woman.

as poor as a church mouse

- very poor

My cousin is as poor as a church mouse and never has any money to spend.

as quiet as a mouse

- very quiet, shy

I was as quiet as a mouse when I left my house early this morning.

as scared as a rabbit

- very scared

I was as scared as a rabbit when I entered the empty room.

as sick as a dog

- very sick

My friend was as sick as a dog when he left the restaurant last night.

as sly as a fox

- smart and clever

The manager of our apartment is as sly as a fox.

as strong as a horse/ox

- very strong

The man was as strong as an ox and easily helped us move the sofa.

as stubborn as a mule

- very stubborn

My friend is as stubborn as a mule and you can never make her change her mind.

as weak as a kitten

- weak, sickly

The girl is as weak as a kitten and cannot carry the books.

as wild as a tiger

- very wild

The little boy was as wild as a tiger when we were trying to look after him.

back the wrong horse

- to support someone or something that cannot or does not win or succeed

We backed the wrong horse when we supported the candidate for mayor.

badger (someone)

- to get someone to do something by repeated questions or by bothering them

I always have to badger my friend in order to make him return my computer games.

one's bark is worse than one's bite

- one's words are worse than one's actions

You should not worry about the secretary. Her bark is worse than her bite and she is really a very nice person.

bark up the wrong tree

- to choose the wrong course of action, to ask the wrong person (a hunting dog may make a mistake when chasing an animal and bark up the wrong tree)

My boss is barking up the wrong tree. I did not cause the computer problem.

beat a dead horse

- to continue fighting a battle that has been won, to continue to argue a point that has been settled

I was beating a dead horse when I was arguing with my boss.

the best-laid plans of mice and men

- the best thought-out plans that anyone can make

The best-laid plans of mice and men could not prevent our travel problems.

bet on the wrong horse

- to misread the future, to not choose the winning person or solution

The man is betting on the wrong horse if he supports the other city in their bid for the Olympic games.

better to be a live dog than a dead lion

- it is better to be a live coward than a dead hero (this is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible)

It is better to be a live dog than a dead lion so I walked away and did not try and fight with the man.

better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion

- it is better to be the leader of a small group than a follower of a bigger one

The young athlete always played for his hometown team rather than moving to a larger city with a bigger team. He thought that it was better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.

the black sheep of the family

- the worst or the most unpopular or disliked member of a family

My cousin is the black sheep of the family and nobody likes to talk about him.

bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

- to be very cheerful and eager (like a squirrel with bright eyes and a bushy tail)

The children were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when they woke up in the morning.

a bull in a china shop

- a tactless person who upsets others or upsets plans, a very clumsy person

The boy is like a bull in a china shop so you should be careful if you invite him to your house.

buy a pig in a poke

- to buy something without seeing it or knowing anything about it

You can buy the used computer but it will be like buying a pig in a poke if you do not look at it first.

by shank's mare

- by foot

I came to the meeting by shank's mare.

call the dogs off or call off the dogs

- to stop threatening or chasing or hounding someone

The police decided to call the dogs off and stop hunting for the man.

a cash cow

- a product or service that makes much money

Our new business is a cash cow. We are making much money now.

cast pearls before swine

- to waste something on someone who will not be thankful or care about it

Giving the jewellery to the woman will be casting pearls before swine. She will not appreciate it at all.

cat burglar

- a burglar who enters a building by climbing a wall etc.

A cat burglar entered our apartment and stole our television.

cat gets one`s tongue

- one cannot speak because of shyness

The cat got the woman's tongue and she could not say anything at all.

a cat has nine lives

- cats can survive accidents that would kill most animals

The boy never becomes injured. He is like a cat with nine lives.

a cat in gloves catches no mice

- if you are too careful and polite you may not get what you want

A cat in gloves catches no mice and I advised my friend that he should be more aggressive at work or he will not be successful.

a cat nap

- a short sleep taken during the day

I had a cat nap in the afternoon so that I would feel refreshed in the evening.

a cat on a hot tin roof

- full of lively activity

The boy was jumping around like a cat on a hot tin roof and we could not make him be quiet.

champ/chomp at the bit

- to be ready and anxious to do something (a bit is put into a horse's mouth for control of the horse)

Everyone was chomping at the bit to get started on their holiday.

change horses in midstream

- to make new plans or choose a new leader in an activity that has already begun

They have decided to change lawyers but I told them that they should not change horses in midstream.

a cock-and-bull story

- a silly story that is not true

Our neighbor gave us a cock-and-bull story about how our window was broken.

a copycat

- someone who copies another person`s work etc.

The boy is a copycat and often copies the other students' work.

cry wolf

- to give a false alarm, to warn of a danger that is not there

The man is crying wolf. There is no danger from the electrical system.

curiosity killed the cat

- being too nosy or curious may get a person into trouble

"You should not worry about what your friend is doing. Remember, curiosity killed the cat."

a dark horse

- a candidate who is little known to the general public

The candidate for mayor was a dark horse until he gave some good speeches on TV.

dog and pony show

- something that you disapprove of because you think that it has only been organized to impress you (like a dog and pony show in a circus)

We had serious questions about the project but we only got a dog and pony show when we questioned our business partners.

dog-eat-dog

- ready or willing to fight and hurt others to get what one wants

It is a dog-eat-dog world in our company.

dog in the manger

- someone who prevents others from doing what they themselves do not want to do (in Aesop's Fables a dog that cannot eat hay lays in the hayrack and prevents the other animals from eating the hay)

My friend always acts like a dog in the manger and often tries to prevent us from enjoying ourselves.

donkey's years

- a very long time

I was happy to see my friend because I had not seen her in donkey's years.

a dumb bunny

- a stupid or gullible person

"He really is a dumb bunny. He does such stupid things."

eager beaver

- a person who is always eager to work or do something extra

The woman is an eager beaver and will do very well in this company.

eat high on/off the hog

- to eat good or expensive food

We were eating high off the hog during our ocean cruise.

eat like a horse

- to eat a lot

My brother eats like a horse.

every dog has his day

- everyone will have his chance or turn, everyone will get what he deserves

"Don`t worry about him. Every dog has his day and he will eventually suffer for all the bad things that he is doing."

ferret (information or something) out of (someone)

- to get something from someone by being persistent

I worked hard to ferret the location of the party out of my friend.

fight like cats and dogs

- to argue and fight with someone (usually used for people who know each other)

The two children were fighting like cats and dogs when we entered the room.

flog a dead horse

- to continue fighting a battle that has been won, to continue to argue a point that has been settled

My friend was flogging a dead horse when she would not stop arguing about the mistake on her paycheck.

a fraidy-cat

- someone who is easily frightened (usually used by children)

The little boy called his friend a fraidy-cat because his friend would not climb the tree.

get (someone`s) goat

- to annoy someone

My friend is always complaining about the way that I do things which gets my goat.

get off one`s high horse

- to begin to be humble and agreeable

I wish that my supervisor would get off her high horse and begin to think about how other people feel about things.

get on one`s high horse

- to behave with arrogance

My friend is always getting on her high horse and telling people what to do.

go ape (over someone or something)

- to become highly excited or angry about someone or something

Our teacher will go ape if you do not finish the work that was due today.

go hog-wild

- to behave wildly

The soccer fans went hog-wild when they arrived in the city for the game.

go to the dogs

- to deteriorate, to become bad

Many things in our city have gone to the dogs during the last ten years.

go whole hog

- to do everything possible, to be extravagant

We went whole hog in our effort to make the convention a success.

grin like a Cheshire cat

- to grin or smile broadly

The little boy was grinning like a Cheshire cat when he entered the room.

the hair of the dog that bit one

- a drink of alcohol that one takes when recovering from a hangover

The man had the hair of the dog that bit him before he ate breakfast.

have a cow

- to become very angry and upset about something

Our teacher had a cow when nobody prepared for the class.

have a tiger by the tail

- to have a task or situation that you are not prepared for or which is a bigger challenge that you expected

The politician had a tiger by the tail as he tried to manage the large problem.

have a whale of a time

- to have an exciting and interesting time

We had a whale of a time at the party last night.

have bats in one's belfry

- to be a little bit crazy

I think that our neighbor has bats in her belfry.

hit the bulls-eye

- to reach or focus on the main point of something

Our manager hit the bulls-eye when he talked about the problems in the company.

hold one`s horses

- to wait, to be patient

"Hold your horses for a moment while I make a phone call."

Holy cow

- used to express strong feelings of astonishment or pleasure or anger

"Holy cow," the man said when he saw the car that hit the street lamp.

hoof it

- to walk or run (a hoof is the foot of a horse or sheep or cow etc.)

I decided to hoof it when I came downtown this morning.

horse around

- to play around (in a rough way)

The teacher told the children not to horse around while they were getting ready for class.

a horse of a different color

- another matter entirely, something else, something different than the subject that is being discussed

Changing locations is a horse of a different color and was never discussed in the meeting.

horse sense

- common sense, practical thinking

The boy does not have any horse sense and often makes the wrong decision.

horse trade

- to bargain in a hard and skillful way

We had to do some horse trading but finally we were able to buy the new house.

to hound (someone)

- to pursue or chase someone, to harass someone

The manager is always hounding the younger members of her staff to make them work hard.

in a pig`s eye

- unlikely, not so, never

Never in a pig`s eye will my friend be able to save enough money to go to Mexico for the winter.

in the doghouse

- in disgrace or disfavor, in trouble

The man is in the doghouse with his wife because he came home late last night.

in two shakes of a lamb's tail

- very quickly

I promised that I would meet my friend in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

kangaroo court

- an illegal court formed by a group of people to settle a dispute among themselves

The military court in the small country was a kangaroo court that permitted the military to do whatever they wanted.

keep the wolf from the door

- to maintain oneself at the most basic level

My friend's part-time job is enough for him to keep the wolf from the door.

keep the wolves at bay

- to fight against some kind of trouble

Many people are angry about the new tax. The government has to work hard to keep the wolves at bay.

kill the fatted calf

- to prepare an elaborate banquet for someone

We will kill the fatted calf and have a big feast for my parents.

lead a dog`s life

- to lead a miserable life

The man is leading a dog`s life since he married the woman who everyone told him not to marry.

a leopard can't change its spots

- you cannot change someone's basic human nature or bad qualities

The manager wrote a letter of apology to the customer but a leopard can't change its spots. The manager has not changed and the letter does not mean anything.

let sleeping dogs lie

- do not make trouble if you do not have to

You should let sleeping dogs lie and not ask our boss about the dispute.

let the cat out of the bag

- to tell something that is supposed to be a secret

The teacher let the cat out of the bag when she began talking about the plans to close the school.

like a bat out of hell

- with great speed and force

I ran like a bat out of hell to catch the bus.

like a deer caught in the headlights

- like someone who is very confused and does not know what to do

The boy looked like a deer caught in the headlights when we discovered him in the locked room.

like lambs to the slaughter

- quietly and without complaining about the dangers that may lie ahead

Our football team went like lambs to the slaughter to play against the best football team in the country.

lion's share of (something)

- the larger part or share of something

We found the lion's share of the lost tickets but some are still missing.

a live dog is better than a dead lion

- it is better to be a live coward than a dead hero (this is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible)

A live dog is better than a dead lion and I told my friend not to get into a fight with the angry man in the restaurant.

live high on/off the hog

- to have the best of everything

My friend has been living high on the hog since he changed jobs.

loaded for bear

- very angry

The man was loaded for bear when he went in to see the supervisor.

lock horns with (someone)

- to get into an argument with someone

I locked horns with my neighbor yesterday morning.

lock the barn door after the horse is gone

- to try to deal with something after it is too late

My friend wants to fix his house. However, it is like locking the barn door after the horse is gone. There was a flood and the damage is already done.

a lone wolf

- someone who prefers to spend time alone and has few friends

The boy was a lone wolf and spent most of his time alone.

look a gift horse in the mouth

- to complain if a gift is not perfect

The girl should not look a gift horse in the mouth. She should be happy that she received a present from her friends.

look like something the cat dragged in

- to look tired or worn out or dirty

I was very tired and I looked like something the cat dragged in.

look like the cat that swallowed/ate the canary

- to look smug and self-satisfied, to look as if you have just had a great success

"You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. What happened?"

make a monkey out of (someone)

- to make someone look foolish

My friend made a monkey out of me when he started arguing with me in front of my boss.

make a mountain out of a molehill

- to make something that is unimportant seem important

You are making a mountain out of a molehill when you talk about the mistake.

make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

- to create something of value from something of no value

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. There is no point in trying to teach that woman manners.

monkey around with (someone or something)

- to play with or waste time with someone or something

The boy spent the morning monkeying around with the old radio.

monkey business

- unethical or illegal activity, mischief

The boy should stop the monkey business and do the job correctly.

a monkey on one's back

- a serious problem that stops someone from being successful at something

Seven games without scoring a goal was a monkey on the back of the famous soccer player.

monkey see, monkey do

- someone copies something that someone else does

It is monkey see, monkey do for the boy. He copies everything that his friend does.

more fun than a barrel of monkeys

- very funny, fun

The children love their teacher because he is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

not enough room to swing a cat

- not very much space

There was not enough room to swing a cat in the small apartment.

on horseback

- on the back of a horse

We rode to the river on horseback.

a paper tiger

- a person or organization that is supposed to have a lot of power but is actually very weak

The manager was a paper tiger and did not have any power in the company.

piggy bank

- a small bank (sometimes in the shape of a pig) for saving money

The boy has been putting money into his piggy bank to save for a bicycle.

piggyback

- sitting or being carried on someone`s back and shoulders

The boy was riding piggyback on his father`s shoulders.

play cat and mouse with (someone)

- to tease or fool someone, to change between different types of behavior when dealing with someone

The man is playing cat and mouse with his company about his plans to quit or not.

play possum

- to pretend to be inactive or asleep or dead

I think that the man is playing possum and is not really sleeping.

put on the dog

- to dress or entertain in a luxurious and extravagant manner

We put on the dog for my parents when they came to visit us.

put one's head in the lion's mouth

- to put oneself in a dangerous or difficult situation

I put my head in the lion's mouth when I went to the meeting with my boss.

put (someone or something) out to pasture

- to retire someone or something (just as you would put a horse that is too old to work out to pasture)

We finally decided to put our old car out to pasture and buy a new one.

put the cart before the horse

- to do things in the wrong order

Buying a ticket before we make our holiday plans is putting the cart before the horse.

put the cat among the pigeons

- to cause trouble

Sending the unpopular supervisor to talk to the angry workers was like putting the cat among the pigeons.

rain cats and dogs

- to rain very hard

It has been raining cats and dogs all day.

rat on (someone)

- to report someone's bad behavior to someone

The little boy ratted on his friend at school.

rat out on (someone)

- to desert or betray someone

The boy ratted out on his friends. Now they won`t talk to him.

rat race

- a rushed and confusing way of living that does not seem to have a purpose

My uncle is tired of being in the rat race every day. He plans to quit his job soon and do something else.

ride herd on (someone)

- to watch closely and strictly supervise someone (as a cowboy would supervise a herd of cattle)

The manager has been riding herd on his employees so that they can finish the job quickly.

a road hog

- a car driver who uses more than his share of the road

The person in front of me on the highway was a road hog but I tried not to get angry.

rub (someone/someone's fur) the wrong way

- to irritate someone (just as you would irritate a dog or cat if you rub their fur the wrong way)

The woman who I work with always rubs me the wrong way.

a sacred cow

- a person or thing that is never criticized or changed even if it should be (from a cow which is sacred in India)

The school lunch program is a sacred cow which they do not want to change.

a scaredy-cat

- someone who is easily frightened (usually used by children)

The children called their friend a scaredy-cat because she would not enter the empty house.

see a man about a dog

- to leave for some unmentioned purpose (often to go to the washroom)

I left our table in the restaurant to go and see a man about a dog.

separate the sheep from the goats

- to divide people into two groups

We had to separate the sheep from the goats when we began to make selections for the school choir.

serve as a guinea pig

- to allow some kind of test to be performed on someone

I was not happy that I had to serve as a guinea pig for the new training material.

a shaggy dog story

- a long and often pointless story that is told as a joke and often ends in a very silly or unexpected way

My friend told me a shaggy dog story about how he lost his bicycle.

smell a rat

- to be suspicious of someone or something, to feel that something is wrong

I smell a rat. There is something wrong with the free credit card offer.

squirrel away (something) or squirrel (something) away

- to hide or store something

My niece likes to squirrel away as much money as possible from her part-time job.

straight from the horse`s mouth

- directly from the person who said something, directly from a dependable source

I heard it straight from the horse`s mouth that our supervisor will be leaving the company next week.

the straw that broke the camel`s back

- a small final trouble or problem which follows other troubles and causes everything to collapse or something to happen

The mistake on the bill was the straw that broke the camel`s back. We finally fired the new accounting clerk.

one's tail between one`s legs

- feeling beaten or humiliated (like a frightened or defeated dog as it walks away)

The manager left the meeting with his tail between his legs after he was criticized by the company president.

the tail wagging the dog

- a situation where a small part controls the whole thing

The tail is wagging the dog. The receptionist controls everything in the office.

take the bull by the horns

- to take decisive and direct action

My aunt decided to take the bull by the horns and begin preparations for the family reunion.

there is more than one way to skin a cat

- there is more than one way to do something

I knew that there was more than one way to skin a cat so I did not worry about the rules and time limit of my project.

throw (someone) to the lions

- to permit someone to be blamed or criticized for something without trying to help or protect him or her

The company threw the manager to the lions and made him take responsibility for the problem.

throw (someone) to the wolves

- to send someone into danger without protection, to sacrifice someone

The salesman decided to throw his coworker to the wolves when he asked him to meet the angry customer.

top dog

- the most important person in an organization

My uncle is the top dog in his company.

turn tail

- to run away from trouble or danger

We decided to turn tail and leave the restaurant before there was an argument.

until the cows come home

- until very late, for a long time

We can talk until the cows come home this evening.

weasel out of (something)

- to not have to do something (like a weasel which can move through small openings)

My friend was able to weasel out of going to the store for his mother.

when the cat's away, the mice will play

- when you are not watching someone they may get into trouble, when a person with authority is absent then those below him or her can do whatever they want

When the cat's away, the mice will play and when the teacher left the classroom the students began to play.

a white elephant

- something that is not useful and costs a lot of money to maintain

The airport is a white elephant and nobody liked to use it.

wild horses could not drag (someone away)

- there is nothing that will force someone to go somewhere or do something

Wild horses could not drag me away from my favorite TV show last night.

a wildcat strike

- a strike spontaneously arranged by a group of workers

There was a wildcat strike at the factory and the workers stopped work.

wolf down (something)

- to gulp down something, to eat something quickly

I wolfed down my dinner and left the house for the movie.

a wolf in sheep`s clothing

- a person who pretends to be good but really is bad

"Be careful of that man. He is a wolf in sheep`s clothing."

work like a dog

- to work very hard

The boy worked like a dog on his school project.

work like a horse

- to work very hard

My grandfather worked like a horse when he was a young man.

you can lead a horse to water (but you can't make it drink)

- you can give someone the opportunity to do something but you cannot force him or her to do it if they do not want to

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink and no matter how hard we try to help my cousin get a job he will not make any effort to find one.

you can't teach an old dog new tricks

- it is difficult for older people to learn new things

You can't teach an old dog new tricks and I do not think that my father will ever change his eating habits.

Cat Idioms


alley cat

- a stray cat

I began to feed the alley cat and now it comes to my house every day.

as conceited as a barber's cat

- very conceited, vain

My friend became as conceited as a barber's cat after she won the award at school.

as weak as a kitten

- weak, sickly

The girl is as weak as a kitten and cannot carry the books.

cat burglar

- a burglar who enters a building by climbing a wall etc.

A cat burglar entered our apartment and stole our television.

cat gets one`s tongue

- one cannot speak because of shyness

The cat got the woman's tongue and she could not say anything at all.

a cat has nine lives

- cats can survive accidents that would kill most animals

The boy never becomes injured. He is like a cat with nine lives.

a cat in gloves catches no mice

- if you are too careful and polite you may not get what you want

A cat in gloves catches no mice and I advised my friend that he should be more aggressive at work or he will not be successful.

a cat nap

- a short sleep taken during the day

I had a cat nap during the afternoon so that I would feel refreshed in the evening.

a cat on a hot tin roof

- full of lively activity

The boy was jumping around like a cat on a hot tin roof and we could not make him be quiet.

a copycat

- someone who copies another person`s work etc.

The boy is a copycat and copies the other students' work.

curiosity killed the cat

- being too nosy or curious may get a person into trouble

"You should not worry about what your friend is doing. Remember, curiosity killed the cat."

fight like cats and dogs

- to argue and fight with someone (usually used for people who know each other)

The two children were fighting like cats and dogs when we entered the room.

a fraidy-cat

- someone who is easily frightened (usually used by children)

The little boy called his friend a fraidy-cat because his friend would not climb the tree.

grin like a Cheshire cat

- to grin or smile broadly

The little boy was grinning like a Cheshire cat when he entered the room.

let the cat out of the bag

- to tell something that is supposed to be a secret

The teacher let the cat out of the bag when she began talking about the plans to close the school.

look like something the cat dragged in

- to look tired or worn out or dirty

I was very tired and I looked like something the cat dragged in.

look like the cat that swallowed/ate the canary

- to look smug and self-satisfied, to look as if you have just had a great success

"You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. What happened?"

not enough room to swing a cat

- not very much space

There was not enough room to swing a cat in the small apartment.

play cat and mouse with (someone)

- to tease or fool someone, to change between different types of behavior when dealing with someone

The man is playing cat and mouse with his company about his plans to quit or not.

put the cat among the pigeons

- to cause trouble

Sending the unpopular supervisor to talk to the angry workers was like putting the cat among the pigeons.

rain cats and dogs

- to rain very hard

It has been raining cats and dogs all day.

rub (someone) the wrong way

- to irritate someone (just as you would irritate a dog or cat if you rub their fur the wrong way)

The woman who I work with rubs me the wrong way.

a scaredy-cat

- someone who is easily frightened (usually used by children)

The children called their friend a scaredy-cat because she would not enter the empty house.

there is more than one way to skin a cat

- there is more than one way to do something

I knew that there was more than one way to skin a cat so I did not worry about the rules and time limit of my project.

when the cat's away, the mice will play

- when you are not watching someone they may get into trouble, when a person with authority is absent then those below him or her can do whatever they want

When the cat's away, the mice will play and when the teacher left the classroom the students began to play.

Cow Idioms


as awkward as a cow on roller skates

- very awkward

The little girl was as awkward as a cow on roller skates when she began riding her bicycle.

a bull in a china shop

- a tactless person who upsets others or upsets plans, a very clumsy person

The boy is like a bull in a china shop so you should be careful if you invite him to your house.

a cash cow

- a product or service that makes much money

Our new business is a cash cow. We are making much money now.

have a cow

- to become very angry and upset about something

Our teacher had a cow when nobody prepared for the class.

hit the bulls-eye

- to reach or focus on the main point of something

Our manager hit the bulls-eye when he talked about the problems in the company.

Holy cow

- used to express strong feelings of astonishment or pleasure or anger

"Holy cow," the man said when he saw the car that hit the street lamp.

a sacred cow

- a person or thing that is never criticized or changed even if it should be (from a cow which is sacred in India)

The school lunch program is a sacred cow which they will never change.

take the bull by the horns

- to take decisive and direct action

My aunt decided to take the bull by the horns and begin preparations for the family reunion.

until the cows come home

- until very late, for a long time

We can talk until the cows come home this evening.

Dog Idioms


as clean as a hound's tooth

- very clean

The classroom was as clean as a hound's tooth when the students finished cleaning it.

as crooked as a dog's hind leg

- dishonest

The politician is as crooked as a dog's hind leg and nobody likes him.

as sick as a dog

- very sick

My friend was as sick as a dog when he left the restaurant last night.

one's bark is worse than one's bite

- one's words are worse than one's actions

You should not worry about the secretary. Her bark is worse than her bite and she is really a very nice person.

bark up the wrong tree

- to choose the wrong course of action, to ask the wrong person (a hunting dog may make a mistake when chasing an animal and bark up the wrong tree)

My boss is barking up the wrong tree. I did not cause the computer problem.

better to be a live dog than a dead lion

- it is better to be a live coward than a dead hero (this is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible)

It is better to be a live dog than a dead lion so I walked away and did not try and fight with the man.

better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion

- it is better to be the leader of a small group than a follower of a bigger one

The young athlete always played for his hometown team rather than moving to a larger city with a bigger team. He thought that 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

- to stop threatening or chasing or hounding someone

The police decided to call the dogs off and stop hunting for the man.

dog and pony show

- something that you disapprove of because you think that it has only been organized to impress you (like a dog and pony show in a circus)

We had serious questions about the project but we only got a dog and pony show when we questioned our business partners.

dog-eat-dog

- ready or willing to fight and hurt others to get what one wants

It is a dog-eat-dog world in our company.

dog in the manger

- someone who prevents others from doing what they themselves do not want to do (in Aesop's Fables a dog that cannot eat hay lays in the hayrack and prevents the other animals from eating the hay)

My friend always acts like a dog in the manger and often tries to prevent us from enjoying ourselves.

every dog has his day

- everyone will have his chance or turn, everyone will get what he deserves

"Don`t worry about him. Every dog has his day and he will eventually suffer for all the bad things that he is doing."

fight like cats and dogs

- to argue and fight with someone (usually used for people who know each other)

The two children were fighting like cats and dogs when we entered the room.

go to the dogs

- to deteriorate, to become bad

Many things in our city have gone to the dogs during the last ten years.

the hair of the dog that bit one

- a drink of alcohol that one takes when recovering from a hangover

The man had the hair of the dog that bit him before he ate breakfast.

to hound (someone)

- to pursue or chase someone, to harass someone

The manager is always hounding the younger members of her staff to make them work hard.

in the doghouse

- in disgrace or disfavor, in trouble

The man is in the doghouse with his wife because he came home late last night.

lead a dog`s life

- to lead a miserable life

The man is leading a dog`s life since he married the woman who everyone told him not to marry.

let sleeping dogs lie

- do not make trouble if you do not have to

You should let sleeping dogs lie and not ask our boss about the dispute.

a live dog is better than a dead lion

- it is better to be a live coward than a dead hero (this is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible)

A live dog is better than a dead lion and I told my friend not to get into a fight with the angry man in the restaurant.

put on the dog

- to dress or entertain in a luxurious and extravagant manner

We put on the dog for my parents when they came to visit us.

rain cats and dogs

- to rain very hard

It has been raining cats and dogs all day.

rub (someone/someone's fur) the wrong way

- to irritate someone (just as you would irritate a dog or cat if you rub their fur the wrong way)

The woman who I work with always rubs me the wrong way.

see a man about a dog

- to leave for some unmentioned purpose (often to go to the washroom)

I left our table in the restaurant to go and see a man about a dog.

a shaggy dog story

- a long and often pointless story that is told as a joke and often ends in a very silly or unexpected way

My friend told me a shaggy dog story about how he lost his bicycle.

one's tail between one`s legs

- feeling beaten or humiliated (like a frightened or defeated dog as it walks away)

The manager left the meeting with his tail between his legs after he was criticized by the company president.

the tail wagging the dog

- a situation where a small part of something controls the whole thing

The tail is wagging the dog. The receptionist controls everything in the office.

top dog

- the most important person in an organization

My uncle is the top dog in his company.

turn tail

- to run away from trouble or danger

We decided to turn tail and leave the restaurant before there was an argument.

work like a dog

- to work very hard

The boy worked like a dog on his school project.

you can't teach an old dog new tricks

- it is difficult for older people to learn new things

You can't teach an old dog new tricks and I do not think that my father will ever change his eating habits.

Horse Idioms


as strong as a horse/ox

- very strong

The man was as strong as an ox and easily helped us move the sofa.

as stubborn as a mule

- very stubborn

My friend is as stubborn as a mule and you can never make her change her mind.

back the wrong horse

- to support someone or something that cannot or does not win or succeed

We backed the wrong horse when we supported the candidate for mayor.

beat a dead horse

- to continue fighting a battle that has been won, to continue to argue a point that has been settled

I was beating a dead horse when I was arguing with my boss.

bet on the wrong horse

- to misread the future, to not choose the winning person or solution

The man is betting on the wrong horse if he supports the other city in their bid for the Olympic games.

by shank's mare

- by foot

I came to the meeting by shank's mare.

champ/chomp at the bit

- to be ready and anxious to do something (a bit is put into a horse's mouth for control of the horse)

Everyone was chomping at the bit to get started on their holiday.

change horses in midstream

- to make new plans or choose a new leader in an activity that has already begun

They have decided to change lawyers but I told them that they should not change horses in midstream.

a dark horse

- a candidate who is little known to the general public

The candidate for mayor was a dark horse until he gave some good speeches on TV.

dog and pony show

- something that you disapprove of because you think that it has only been organized to impress you (like a dog and pony show in a circus)

We had serious questions about the project but we only got a dog and pony show when we questioned our business partners.

donkey's years

- a very long time

I was happy to see my friend because I had not seen her in donkey's years.

eat like a horse

- to eat a lot

My brother eats like a horse.

flog a dead horse

- to continue fighting a battle that has been won, to continue to argue a point that has been settled

My friend was flogging a dead horse when she would not stop arguing about the mistake on her paycheck.

get off one`s high horse

- to begin to be humble and agreeable

I wish that my supervisor would get off her high horse and begin to think about how other people feel about things.

get on one`s high horse

- to behave with arrogance

My friend is always getting on her high horse and telling people what to do.

hold one`s horses

- to wait, to be patient

"Hold your horses for a moment while I make a phone call."

hoof it

- to walk or run (a hoof is the foot of a horse or sheep or cow etc.)

I decided to hoof it when I came downtown this morning.

horse around

- to play around (in a rough way)

The teacher told the children not to horse around while they were getting ready for class.

a horse of a different color

- another matter entirely, something else, something different than the subject that is being discussed

Changing locations is a horse of a different color and was never discussed in any of our meetings.

horse sense

- common sense, practical thinking

The boy does not have any horse sense and often makes the wrong decision.

horse trade

- to bargain in a hard and skillful way

We had to do some horse trading but finally we were able to buy the new house.

lock the barn door after the horse is gone

- to try to deal with something after it is too late

My friend wants to fix his house. However, it is like locking the barn door after the horse is gone. There was a flood and the damage is already done.

look a gift horse in the mouth

- to complain if a gift is not perfect

The girl should not look a gift horse in the mouth. She should be happy that she received a present from her friends.

on horseback

- on the back of a horse

We rode to the river on horseback.

put (someone or something) out to pasture

- to retire someone or something (just as you would put a horse that is too old to work out to pasture)

We finally decided to put our old car out to pasture and buy a new one.

put the cart before the horse

- to do things in the wrong order

Buying a ticket before we make our holiday plans is putting the cart before the horse.

ride herd on (someone)

- to watch closely and strictly supervise someone (as a cowboy would supervise a herd of cattle)

The manager has been riding herd on his employees so that they can finish the job quickly.

straight from the horse`s mouth

- directly from the person who said something, directly from a dependable source

I heard it straight from the horse`s mouth that our supervisor will be leaving the company next week.

wild horses could not drag (someone away)

- there is nothing that will force someone to go somewhere or do something

Wild horses could not drag me away from my favorite TV show last night.

work like a horse

- to work very hard

My grandfather worked like a horse when he was a young man.

you can lead a horse to water (but you can't make it drink)

- you can give someone the opportunity to do something but you cannot force him or her to do it if they do not want to

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink and no matter how hard we try to help my cousin get a job he will not make any effort to find one.

Monkey Idioms


go ape (over someone or something)

- to become highly excited or angry about someone or something

Our teacher will go ape if you do not finish the work that was due today.

make a monkey out of (someone)

- to make someone look foolish

My friend made a monkey out of me when he started arguing with me in front of my boss.

monkey around with (someone or something)

- to play with or waste time with someone or something

The boy spent the morning monkeying around with the old radio.

monkey business

- unethical or illegal activity, mischief

The boy should stop the monkey business and do the job correctly.

a monkey on one's back

- a serious problem that stops someone from being successful at something

Seven games without scoring a goal was a monkey on the back of the famous soccer player.

monkey see, monkey do

- someone copies something that someone else does

It is monkey see, monkey do for the boy. He copies everything that his friend does.

more fun than a barrel of monkeys

- very funny, fun

The children love their teacher because he is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Mouse Idioms


as poor as a church mouse

- very poor

My cousin is as poor as a church mouse and never has any money to spend.

as quiet as a mouse

- very quiet, shy

I was as quiet as a mouse when I left my house early this morning.

the best-laid plans of mice and men

- the best thought-out plans that anyone can make

The best-laid plans of mice and men could not prevent our travel problems.

play cat and mouse with (someone)

- to tease or fool someone, to change between different types of behavior when dealing with someone

The man is playing cat and mouse with his company about his plans to quit or not.

when the cat's away, the mice will play

- when you are not watching someone they may get into trouble

When the cat's away, the mice will play and when the teacher left the classroom the students began to play around.

Pig/Hog Idioms


as fat as a pig

- very fat

The woman in the supermarket was as fat as a pig.

buy a pig in a poke

- to buy something without seeing it or knowing anything about it

You can buy the used computer but it will be like buying a pig in a poke if you do not look at it first.

cast pearls before swine

- to waste something on someone who will not be thankful or care about it

Giving the jewellery to the woman will be casting pearls before swine. She will not appreciate it at all.

eat high on/off the hog

- to eat good or expensive food

We were eating high off the hog during our ocean cruise.

go hog-wild

- to behave wildly

The soccer fans went hog-wild when they arrived in the city for the game.

go whole hog

- to do everything possible, to be extravagant

We went whole hog in our effort to make the convention a success.

in a pig`s eye

- unlikely, not so, never

Never in a pig`s eye will my friend be able to save enough money to go to Mexico for the winter.

live high on/off the hog

- to have the best of everything

My friend has been living high on the hog since he changed jobs.

make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

- to create something of value from something of no value

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. There is no point in trying to teach that woman manners.

piggy bank

- a small bank (sometimes in the shape of a pig) for saving money

The boy has been putting money into his piggy bank to save for a bicycle.

piggyback

- sitting or being carried on someone`s back and shoulders

The boy was riding piggyback on his father`s shoulders.

a road hog

- a car driver who uses more than his share of the road

The person in front of me on the highway was a road hog but I tried not to get angry.

Rat Idioms


rat on (someone)

- to report someone's bad behavior to someone

The little boy ratted on his friend at school.

rat out on (someone)

- to desert or betray someone

The boy ratted out on his friends. Now they won`t talk to him.

rat race

- a rushed and confusing way of living that does not seem to have a purpose

My uncle is tired of being in the rat race every day. He plans to quit his job soon and do something else.

smell a rat

- to be suspicious of someone or something, to feel that something is wrong

I smell a rat. There is something wrong with the free credit card offer.

Sheep/Goat Idioms


as gentle as a lamb

- very gentle

The girl is as gentle as a lamb when she is with her little sister.

as innocent as a lamb

- having no guilt, naive

The little girl is as innocent as a lamb and everybody loves her.

as meek as a lamb

- quiet, docile, meek

The secretary was as meek as a lamb when she went to ask her boss for a salary increase.

the black sheep of the family

- the worst or the most unpopular or disliked member of a family

My cousin is the black sheep of the family and nobody likes to talk about him.

get (someone`s) goat

- to annoy someone

My friend is always complaining about the way that I do things which gets my goat.

in two shakes of a lamb's tail

- very quickly

I promised that I would meet my friend in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

like lambs to the slaughter

- quietly and without complaining about the dangers that may lie ahead

Our football team went like lambs to the slaughter to play against the best football team in the country.

separate the sheep from the goats

- to divide people into two groups

We had to separate the sheep from the goats when we began to make selections for the school choir.

Wolf Idioms


cry wolf

- to give a false alarm, to warn of a danger that is not there

The man is crying wolf. There is no danger from the electrical system.

keep the wolf from the door

- to maintain oneself at the most basic level

My friend's part-time job is enough for him to keep the wolf from the door.

keep the wolves at bay

- to fight against some kind of trouble

Many people are angry about the new tax. The government has to work hard to keep the wolves at bay.

a lone wolf

- someone who prefers to spend time alone and has few friends

The boy was a lone wolf and spent most of his time alone.

throw (someone) to the wolves

- to send someone into danger without protection, to sacrifice someone

The salesman decided to throw his coworker to the wolves when he asked him to meet the angry customer.

wolf down (something)

- to gulp down something, to eat something quickly

I wolfed down my dinner and left the house for the movie.

a wolf in sheep`s clothing

- a person who pretends to be good but really is bad

"Be careful of that man. He is a wolf in sheep`s clothing."

Idiom Quizzes - Animals

    Choose an idiom to replace the expression in the brackets:

  1. "Please stop that (mischief) and do some serious work."

    (a) dog and pony show (b) monkey business (c) piggyback (d) road hog



  2. The little boy asked many questions until his mother finally said that (asking too many questions will get him into trouble).

    (a) the cat had got his tongue (b) you can't teach an old dog new tricks (c) curiosity killed the cat (d) there is more than one way to skin a cat



  3. "Please (be patient and wait) while I make a phone call."

    (a) call the dogs off (b) have a whale of a time (c) flog a dead horse (d) hold your horses



  4. The new product is (a good source of money) for our company.

    (a) a cash cow (b) as strong as an ox (c) a horse of a different color (d) a dark horse



  5. The little boys thought that their friend was (easily frightened) because he would not play with the dog.

    (a) as awkward as a cow on roller skates (b) a kangaroo court (c) as quiet as a mouse (d) a scaredy-cat



  6. Our supervisor has a reputation for (watching and controlling) the workers.

    (a) living high off the hog on (b) riding herd on (c) horsing around with (d) going ape with



  7. When the police arrived the two men looked frightened and suddenly (ran away).

    (a) hit the bull`s eye (b) let the cat out of the bag (c) turned tail (d) cried wolf



  8. I heard about the plans for the new magazine article (directly from the person responsible).

    (a) off his high horse (b) straight from the horse`s mouth (c) in two shakes of a lamb's tail (d) in a pig`s eye



  9. The car engine stopping while driving on the freeway was the (thing that finally made me decide to do something) so I finally sold the car.

    (a) straw that broke the camel`s back (b) black sheep of the family (c) cat on a hot tin roof (d) wolf in sheep`s clothing



  10. The businessman really (misjudged his chance of success) when he found an unreliable partner for his business.

    (a) led a dog`s life (b) bet on the wrong horse (c) cast pearl`s before swine (d) made a mountain out of a molehole



  11. He is the (most important person) in his company.

    (a) holy cow (b) dog in the manger (c) alley cat (d) top dog



  12. I had not seen my cousin for a long time so when we finally met we talked (for a long time).

    (a) in the dog house (b) as busy as a beaver (c) until the cows came home (d) like lambs to the slaughter



  13. "You should (not worry about the problems from before). It is too late to do anything about them."

    (a) lock the barn door after the horse is gone (b) let sleeping dogs lie (c) buy a pig in a poke (d) bark up the wrong tree



  14. "Do not be afraid of your new neighbor. Her (words are worse than her actions)."

    (a) tail is wagging the dog (b) tail is between her legs (c) looks are like something the cat dragged in (d) bark is worse than her bite



  15. My grandfather moved to the country to get away from the (busyness and confusion) in the city.

    (a) white elephant (b) horse trading (c) rat race (d) horse sense



  16. The young boy (pretended to be asleep) when his friend came into the room.

    (a) went to the dogs (b) put on the dog (c) served as a guinea pig (d) played possum



  17. The man who owns the store is (very dishonest).

    (a) as crooked as a dog's hind leg (b) as clean as a hound's tooth (c) as stubborn as a mule (d) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed



  18. We had (an exciting and interesting time) at the conference.

    (a) a cock-and-bull story (b) a whale of a time (c) the best-laid plans of mice and men (d) a bull in a china shop



  19. My supervisor is always angry so I do not like to (get into an argument with) her.

    (a) lock horns with (b) monkey around with (c) go hog-wild with (d) make a monkey out of



  20. We were (supporting someone who could not win) but still we continued to support our candidate in the election.

    (a) killing the fatted calf (b) making a silk purse out of a sow's ear (c) backing the wrong horse (d) separating the sheep from the goats




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