Animal Expressions – Part II – Opening a Can of Worms!

Apparently, there are a LOT of expressions using animals, considering all of the comments to my May post! Here are more, plus answers to some of the previous ‘what does that mean’ animal expressions – monkey wrench, the “kitty,” and “don’t let the cat out of the bag.” Read on for (Internet) explanations!

Monkey wrench – According to (and who doesn’t have this website on your favorites???), “most people agree that it’s most likely that the monkey wrench was invented by Loring Coes in 1840 in Massachusetts which he called the “screw wrench.” So . . . that still doesn’t explain why it is called a “monkey” wrench. Reading on, I see that “some dictionaries [include] the definition of ‘monkey’ [to mean] a small light structure or piece of equipment contrived to suit an immediate purpose.” Conclusion? A tool that may be adjusted for various purposes 😊.

The poker kitty – Apparently, this word is not used exclusively for poker. According to, the origin is either that the word “kitty” is an old English word for a prison, OR it is a word used to describe a fund of money for communal use, made up of individual contributions. This use goes back to the 1880s. OR maybe it’s some combination of both definitions. Nothing to do with cats, in any case!

Letting the cat out of the bag – one of my favorite websites, (and what a cool name that is, eh?) describes this phrase as “revealing a secret.” The description on the site asks the very same question that I asked – what the heck is the cat doing in the bag in the first place? Once again, the origin of this phrase, as with many phrases, is “murky” (another word I now need to research – geez! And people wonder what I do now that I am “retired” 🤣). Apparently, this phrase was first used in print in 1760 – “We wished that the author had not let the cat out of the bag.” The origin that the website author and I think is most plausible is this one, which I think is SO typical of humans trying to fool others – livestock fraud! “Supposedly, merchants would sell customers live piglets and, after putting a pig in a sack for easier transport, would sometimes swap the pig for a cat when the customer looked away. The customers would not discover that they had been cheated until they got home and . . . let the cat out of the bag.” I’m inclined to believe this origin, especially as a much earlier idiom says, “When ye proffer the pigge, open the poke.” AND, did you know that there is a Spanish equivalent? “Dar gato por liebre,” or “giving a cat instead of a hare.” Aww . . . poor gatos.

New expressions:

Opening a can of worms,” meaning that I tried to solve a problem but created more problems. Here is one explanation of how this phrase began (folks who fish, pay attention!): Everyone seems to agree that the expression began in the U.S. in the 1950s when fishing bait, e.g., worms, was sold in cans. Here is a great description of the benefits and problems of having bait in cans: “The great thing about live bait is that it’s alive, so it wriggles on the hook and tempts fish with its movement. The bad thing about live bait is also that it’s alive, and leaving the lid of the container loose or off is a great way to lose your bait. Given the opportunity to exit, worms will often either escape or just generally make it difficult to get them all back in the can and replace the lid. Once you’ve opened a can of them, you’ve got a problem on your hands.” (thanks to the Mental Floss website, which I should visit more often. . .

Landlubber – I was commiserating with my neighbor about the “lubber” grasshoppers that seem to infect our plants every spring when it occurred to me that we also use the word, landlubber. Does that word refer to these insects? Or is there a different meaning? Here is what I found: Apparently, the word, “lubber,” was used to describe someone or something that was clumsy. But why use that word to describe my garden’s nightmare? Because, according to “,” the word “lubber” is derived from the old English word “lobre” which means lazy or clumsy—a great word to describe this slow-moving grasshopper.” I am sorry to disagree, but, if you met the grown-up version of these grasshoppers (and one of my nephews knows of what I speak!), they are VERY nimble. They not only eat our plants, they climb fences and pool screens, jump, AND fly!

Crabby – “What’s wrong with him?” “Oh, he’s just being crabby.” Why? What’s wrong with acting like a crab?

Did you know that three strikes in a row is a “turkey“? Nine strikes in row is a ‘golden’ turkey. And there is “duckpin” bowling (which uses smaller pins and balls without holes) – and which reminds me of a game we used to play called “duckpin, dodgeball”! I always understood the ‘dodge ball’ part, but never understood (or thought about) the “duckpin” part of that expression.

How about this expression? “Rats!” Indicating something that has gone wrong. OR, in the case of the Florida Panthers hockey team, a good luck symbol?

And what about this winner? “Frog in a sock” – HAHAHA! I am not even going to hold a contest because I have already declared this phrase as the winner! (although I think it is a cousin to the “mouse in your pocket” phrase). I’m reading a mystery book, set in Scotland, when I see this phrase. Here is the context: “I was up front with her, telling her that I wasn’t going to be a good match for her.” “No, mate, if you had been up front with her, you would have told her she’d gone off like a frog in a sock and you were moving on.” “What’s that mean?” “She was crazy.” HAHA – Mouse in your pocket. Ants in your pants, Frog in a sock. Animals in our clothing sure create great expressions!!

3 thoughts on “Animal Expressions – Part II – Opening a Can of Worms!”

  1. Haha!! These keep coming to mind. This is a fun one! Never heard the ‘frog in a sock’ saying but know I will be using it henceforth 😂

  2. Yeaahh, I wouldn’t call those grasshoppers lazy either… they should be called the eastern frenetic in my opinion.

  3. The grasshopper I saw didn’t fly. It walked. Or rather stomped, creating mild quakes where it tread.

    Florida grasshoppers are on a whole ‘nother level.


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