Animal Expressions

Thanks to my friend, Cindi, for reminding me of the expression, “monkeying around,” after reading the April post about Easter rabbits. So, I decided that this month would be perfect for looking at more animal expressions. I have collected a few over the years, many of which I have no idea why they exist. 😕 I put those in bold so YOU can clue me in😊.

  • “Happy as a clam” (because the clam shell looks like a smile when closed, yes?)
  • “Stop monkeying around” (stop acting like a monkey = goofing off?)
  • Why is that tool called a “monkey” wrench?
  • “Get your ducks in a row” (is this because baby ducks follow their parents when swimming?)
  • We have a lot of expressions using dogs:
    • “dog day afternoon” (sleepy)
    • “dog eared” (pages of a book or magazine have been turned down so much that they are no longer crisp, showing that they have been used a lot (is this because a dog’s ear can bend this way?)
    • “dog tired” and “my dogs are tired” (meaning my feet are tired?)
    • “hair of the dog” (drinking more alcohol the morning after drinking a lot to relieve hangover symptoms) – short for ‘hair of the dog that bit you’ (who knew?)
  • Two shakes of a lamb’s tail” (to move quickly ?)
    • Is there some reason that two shakes of the lamb’s tail are better than one shake?
    • And who pays attention to how many times a lamb shakes its tail??
  • “Scaredy cat” and “act like a chicken” (to be afraid)
    • I completely understand these expressions because both types of animals run after they hear something scary. Prey versus hunter, eh?
  • “Sheepish” (to be shy)
    • I guess this is similar to the “scaredy cat” expression? Sheep, a typical prey animal, huddle together to avoid a predator, which would appear as though they are shy, I guess?
  • More about cats:
    • Why is the poker pot called the “kitty”
    • “Don’t let the cat out of the bag” (don’t tell a secret)
      • What???  Who puts a cat in a bag, anyway??
  • “Crickets” – (extremely quiet)
    • But why??? I get “dead silence” and “radio silence” (military?), but crickets are not quiet; they are LOUDDDDDD !!

Let me know if I have missed any!!

22 thoughts on “Animal Expressions”

  1. My fave so far!

    Let’s not forget, sorry kitty parents, more than one way to skin a cat yikes!!!

    So true to the crickets! Luckily I get to watch our large, and growing, family of black-bellied whistling ducks in formation every day when they drop by to whistle for breakfast. A constant reminder to keep my ducks in a row. I’ll take it!

    Fun one Barb!! =}

      • Hello, Cindi!
        I think I know how this expression began. When people own tangible personal property, like cows and horses, they would “brand” them to indicate “these are mine; those are yours,” particularly if the animals ranged free of fences.
        If you received a horse as a gift, and looked in the horse’s mouth (and noticed that the bottom lip was branded with numbers, for example), you would be wise to think that the horse had been stolen.
        SO . . . do not ask from where a gift originated! 😟🤪

  2. Lots of good expressions here. One I used several times last year was “dog days of summer” because August and September just drrraaagggeeeddd and people were bored and hot. I always thought it related to dogs being hot and tired and therefore just laying around, but apparently it has to do with the astrological sign sirius, which shows up from July to August. Who knew?

  3. I’m still waiting for my mechanically-inclined friends to tell me why that tool is a “monkey” wrench, and my poker-playing friends (I know you are there) to tell me why the “pot” is called a “kitty”!

  4. Possibly taught in M.E. degree classes, but maybe I missed, due to studying these other idioms:
    Elephant in room
    Mouse in your pocket
    Trying to put a bonnet on a bee (more southern saying is trying to put socks on a rooster)

    • I can’t believe I forgot the “elephant in the room”!
      I have heard of people having a bee in their bonnet (that would hurt, I imagine), but I have never heard about trying to put socks on a rooster – and I’m not about to try!
      Mouse in your pocket? Tell me more!
      p.s. very funny about missing class because you were pondering animal idioms 😂

      • I realized that I had forgotten the “elephant in the room” because that is what one does, yes? Ignore the elephant? 😉🤣

  5. One that came to my mind was “crocodile tears.” It generally refers to a false sense of emotion. I have usually heard it from parents of crying children when they think their children are being overly dramatic. When I looked it up in Wikipedia, it said the phrase originated from the ancient belief that crocodiles actually shed tears while consuming their prey. Crocodiles do shed tears but only to lubricate their eyes. No crying over their meals.

    • That’s a great example of animal expressions, Laura!
      Crying crocodile tears = fake tears. No saying “Sorry that I am eating you” for crocodiles, I guess!
      I have a feeling that the Egyptians came up with that expression, living along the Nile with those very large crocodiles. Interesting!

  6. Mouse in your pocket is the answer to my least favorite suggestion that often comes up in meetings or group discussions: “WE need to do something”
    So the answer I give is …
    We? Do you have a mouse in your pocket?
    (Thinking about it, I guessed this really isn’t an animal idiom – but funny, no?)

  7. “Cat got your tongue?”
    It’s raining cats and dogs (I never understood that one)
    Writing that article was a BEAR!
    Setting up that meeting was like herding cats….
    He/she’s ‘Dumb’ as a fox [meaning, not really dumb at all, he/she knows what they are doing…]
    That was like letting the fox in the hen house…
    Getting that [fill in the blank] was like catching a greased pig.
    My boss is like a mosquito in my tent
    Don’t mean to put a fly in the ointment but… (about to give negative news)
    SEE Barb?? I told you I’d wake up at 3am with a bunch of these ;P

    • Hey, Mags! You have mentioned a LOT more animal expressions that I use – whew! I looked up “cat got your tongue” (which means, you cannot or do not want to, speak) and came up with some interesting conflicts about how the expression originated. Maybe it originated because sailors were flogged (there’s a nice, old-fashioned word, eh?) with a “cat o nine tails” if they did something bad. After flogging, those sailors were less inclined to talk?
      Or maybe the expression came from the belief that black cats were equivalent to witches, and, if you were “struck dumb,” then the reason had to be because of sorcery.
      Or maybe the expression originated with the practice of punishing “liars and blasphemers for speaking out of turn, bearing false witness, and saying something against the government or the established religion”( by having their tongues cut out. What to do with those tongues? Feed them to the cats, which were revered by Egyptians, among others.
      I guess all of these expressions show how much humans and animals have interacted throughout our times together – and how humans use animals to express thoughts and emotions!

  8. Monkey wrench is because of the shape I think? It sort of has a bulbous mouth area, like a chimp showing its teeth. I don’t know if that’s the original reason, but that’s what I’ve heard.

    Crickets I think comes from an old image of telling a joke, expecting a laugh, bombing, and hearing nothing but background noise, in this case cricket chirps. I know that one because….well I won’t tell you how I know that one.

    • So, it has to be so quiet that you can hear crickets. Well, the cicadas here are SO LOUD that no other noise can be heard – even all of the people laughing at your jokes, Adam. 🤣
      And thanks for the monkey wrench description! Now, I will imagine a monkey biting down on whatever it is when I’m using that wrench.

    • Guess what I found on! This history of “grease monkey” which leads me to believe it is somehow related to the monkey wrench!
      “The noun monkey has long been used—frequently with modifying word indicating the occupation concerned—to denote a person engaged in a trade or profession, especially a person performing a subordinate or menial task, or one which involves physical agility. For example:
      – the noun powder monkey, attested in the mid-17th century, designated a boy employed on a ship to carry gunpowder from the powder magazine to the guns;
      – the noun road monkey, attested in the late 19th century, designated a person employed to repair logging roads.”‘


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