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Animal Idioms and Expressions – Video Lesson

by Oli Redman on 21 January, 2016 , No comments

Do you know what it means if someone describes something as fishy? If someone tells you to hold your horses, what should you do? In this lesson you can learn a few of these English animal idioms. By the end you will understand what they mean and know how to use them.

Copycat (n.) = Someone who copies another person

Let the cat out of the bag (vb. phrase) = To reveal a secret by accident

Catnap (n.) = A short, light sleep

Like a fish out of water (adj. phrase) = Feeling confused or uncomfortable, because you are in an unfamiliar situation.

Fishy (adj.) = Suspicious

Plenty of fish in the sea (n. phrase) = There are many other people to choose from. Often used to comfort someone after a break-up with a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Pig out (vb. phrase) = To eat a lot at one time.

When pigs fly = Shows that you think something is very unlikely to happen.

Hog something (vb. phrase) = To try to keep something all for yourself, so that no one else can use or have it.

I could eat a horse = I’m very hungry; I could eat a lot.

Hear something straight from the horse’s mouth (vb. phrase) = To hear some news or information directly from the source.

Hold your horses (vb. phrase, usually used as a command) = Slow down; be patient.

1. Animal Idioms with Cats

Let’s start with cats. Cats have always been popular with humans, and we have several expressions with them.

Our first expression is copycat. A copycat is someone who copies or imitates someone else. For example, if your friend copies the way you act, the way you dress, or steals your ideas, you can call your friend a copycat.

  • Copycat = a person who copies another person

Let’s look at an example.

When I was younger my brother would always copy what I did. If I started wearing blue trainers, he would start wearing blue trainers. If I started liking a new band, he would start listening to the same band.

In this situation, you could describe my brother as a copycat.

It is used quite regularly today in regards to crime. If one criminal copies another criminal’s methods, we call their act a copycat crime. For example, if one criminal robs a bank using particular methods, and another criminal uses the same methods to rob another bank, you could describe that as a copycat robbery.

Our next expression is let the cat out of the bag.

What do you think this means?

Imagine a cat in a bag and then someone accidentally lets it out. In this animal expression, the cat represents a secret. If you let the cat out of the bag, it means you reveal a secret by accident. Maybe you don’t want to reveal the secret, but you say something which gives it away.

  • Let the cat out of the bag = reveal a secret by accident

For example, imagine you are organising a surprise birthday party for your friend. Someone asks you a question about the party, in front of your friend whose birthday it is. You can say this person has let the cat out of the bag.

Your friend will realise what you are doing, and it won’t be a surprise any more.

Another example: imagine I’m going to buy my wife an amazing birthday present and I told my friend Tom to keep it a secret. But my friend accidentally talked about the present in front of my wife, and now she knows what it is. Tom has let the cat out of the bag. I’m not friends with Tom any more.

Our next expression is a catnap.

What do you think of when you imagine a cat?

Cats are lazy and they sleep a lot. This is where the expression comes from. It means to have a short period of sleep. It’s similar to taking a nap, but taking a catnap emphasises that you sleep very lightly, and probably for a very short time.

  • Catnap = a short sleep

For example; if last night I went out and only had a few hours’ sleep I might take a catnap during the day, so that I didn’t feel so tired.

If you have five or ten minutes and you’re very tired, you might take a catnap, just to give yourself a bit more energy.

OK, so let’s review:

  • Copycat = a person who copies another person
  • Let the cat out of the bag = reveal a secret by accident
  • Catnap = a short sleep

2. Animal Idioms with Fish

What’s our next animal? Fish!

Our first expression is like a fish out of water. This animal idiom means that someone is unfamiliar and usually uncomfortable in their surroundings. A fish is definitely not happy when it is not in water.

  • Like a fish out of water = someone uncomfortable in their surroundings

Let’s look at an example.

Imagine you are using a computer for the first time. You will be like a fish out of water—you won’t know what to do, and you might feel confused and uncomfortable.

Think of a situation where you felt uncomfortable. For me, it was the first time I travelled to China and didn’t understand the language. All of the street signs were in a different language. I felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t understand how to do things that are easy in my own language.

Our next expression is fishy. We use this to describe something suspicious. Something seems wrong; everything is not how it should be. Maybe we think something dishonest is happening.

  • Fishy = suspicious

For example: imagine someone who usually doesn’t do well on exams. Then suddenly and strangely this person gets 100% on one exam.

It’s fishy. It’s suspicious. How did it happen?

Maybe there was some cheating involved. Maybe they’re a copycat and copied the answers off someone in the exam. It seems unlikely that someone who usually gets bad marks could get 100% in an exam.

Another example: yesterday, I left a delicious chocolate bar on the table, and went out. One hour later I came back and the chocolate bar was gone. My wife promised that she hadn’t eaten it. But she was the only person in the house.

It was fishy. I think she might have eaten the chocolate. Who else ate the chocolate? Very fishy…

The next expression is plenty of fish in the sea.

How many fish are there in the sea? Lots! This expression means that there are lots of other people to choose from.

  • Plenty of fish in the sea = lots of other people to choose from

This is quite a common expression if you are helping a friend after a romantic relationship finishes. If your friend breaks up with their boyfriend or girlfriend you can tell them that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

You are helping your friend see that there are lots of other people in the world to choose from. Your friend’s ex-boyfriend or girlfriend was not that special. There are lots of other people who are better.

Let’s review our expressions about fish:

  • Like a fish out of water = someone uncomfortable in their surroundings
  • Fishy = suspicious
  • Plenty of fish in the sea = lots of other people to choose from

3. Animal Idioms with Pigs

Next, let’s look at expressions with pigs.

Our first idiom is to pig out. So when you imagine a pig, what do you think of? Pigs are messy. They don’t eat politely. They’re greedy.

So what do you think pig out means?

The expression pig out means to eat a lot. You eat a lot more than you usually do. Often, if you pig out, you eat a lot of junk food, or you eat unhealthily large amounts of food.

  • Pig out = eat a lot at one time

For example, last weekend I ate a huge pizza and three bowls of ice-cream. You could say that I pigged out last weekend. I ate a lot more than I usually do at the weekend. We often pig out on special occasions, birthdays, parties etc. I pig out a lot more than I probably should.

It is quite a common expression for those lazy nights in front of the TV when we eat a lot of unhealthy food.

Our next expression is when pigs fly. Have you ever seen a flying pig? I’m guessing not.

You can use this expression to describe a situation which is impossible or very unlikely.

  • When pigs fly = you think that a situation is impossible or unlikely

Imagine my friend asks me “When will England next win the World Cup?” I say to my friend, “When pigs fly.” What do I mean?

I mean that I don’t think England will ever win the World Cup.

Imagine you have a friend who is always late. Your friend promises that she’ll be on time to your next meeting. You could reply ”Yeah, and pigs might fly.” You mean that you don’t believe what she’s saying.

Our final expression is to hog something. Wait, weren’t we talking about pigs? Actually, we still are. A hog is a male pig.

If you hog something, you try to keep it all to yourself.

For example, if you are watching TV with your family, and you hog the remote, it means you don’t let anyone else use the remote control or change the channel.

Or, imagine that you are with some friends, and someone is passing around a bowl of snacks. One of your friends keeps the bowl, and eats them all himself. He doesn’t offer them to anyone else.

You could tell your friend to stop hogging the snacks.

Let’s recap our expressions about pigs:

  • Pig out = eat a lot at one time
  • When pigs fly = you think that a situation is impossible or unlikely
  • Hog something = to try to keep something all for yourself, so that no one else can use or have it

4. Animal Idioms with Horses

Finally, let’s look at our last animal: horses.

Our first idiom is I could eat a horse. You say this when you are very hungry.

  • I could eat a horse = I could eat a lot

So if you haven’t eaten all day and you’re hungry you say I could eat a horse. I am telling you that I am very, very hungry. I probably want to pig out.

Usually when I go to a restaurant and I haven’t eaten much and I look at all the delicious food on the menu I feel like I could eat a horse and want to order a lot of food.

Our next expression is hear something straight from the horse’s mouth. This means that you heard a piece of news or information directly from the source.

It’s not gossip or rumour; you can be totally sure of this news or information.

  • Straight from the horse’s mouth = hear news/information directly from the source

Imagine that my manager tells me that my colleague is getting promoted. I can tell my colleague: “You’re getting promoted. I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth,” because I heard it directly from our manager.

Let’s do one more example:

I was told yesterday that my friend Jenny is pregnant. I know this is true because I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth: Jenny told me herself.

Our final horse expression is to hold your horses. This means to be patient and wait.

Usually we would say this to someone who is acting impatiently. Maybe someone is about to make a decision without thinking it through carefully. We think of horses trying to run, and this expression tells someone else to stop the horses from going too quickly.

  • Hold your horses = hold on, be patient

Imagine that you are a teacher. One of your students starts putting away his things, but the lesson hasn’t finished yet! You can tell your student, “Hold your horses!” That means: be patient and slow down. The lesson’s not over yet.

Yesterday, my friend was giving me a lift home. He said, “I want to get some dinner. Let’s go to KFC.” He started driving into the city centre, without even waiting for my answer. “Hold your horses!” I said. I need to get home, because I promised my wife I’d have dinner with her.

My friend made a decision without asking me, and I told him to hold his horses, because he had decided too quickly. He hadn’t asked me what I wanted to do, and whether I was free.

So right now you are thinking “When will this video end?” And my advice to you is to hold your horses. Relax. Slow down. We are almost there.

Let’s review horse expressions:

  • I could eat a horse = I could eat a lot
  • Straight from the horse’s mouth = hear news/information directly from the source
  • Hold your horses = hold on, be patient

 

Animal Idioms Quiz

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Oli RedmanAnimal Idioms and Expressions – Video Lesson