10 Animal Idioms and Their Meanings

By / Category: idioms, infographic, language, vocabulary / May, 7th 2012 / Print Story

Tags: , , ,

Humans and animals have a long history. The behavior of animals and their interactions in modern-day situations have inspired a variety of zoological idioms and expressions that are applied to people and everyday circumstances. Here are 10 animal idioms to ponder.

To download high-resolution poster click here

Embed this image to your site:

To download high resolution poster click here.

1.) An Alley Cat
This idiom describes a feral cat that hangs around in alleys and relies on food provided by soft-hearted individuals. However, it’s also applied to people who prey on the kindness of others. A person might say, “After school, Susan’s friends drop by her house waiting to be fed like alley cats.”

2.) A Paper Tiger
This timeless idiom applies to people, government organizations and groups that act powerful or put on a bold face to hide their weaknesses. For example, “Nick is a paper tiger. He pretends to be tough, but he’s really a gentle giant.”

3.) As Poor as a Church Mouse
The proverbial church mouse has little food, few possessions and no monetary wealth. This common idiom is applied to people or families who are poor and live humbly. Here’s an example: “Mrs. Brown is as poor as a church mouse since her husband’s passing.”

4.) To Make a Mountain Out of a Molehill
Moles are strong diggers that create mountain-shaped piles of dirt when building their underground burrows. When used as an idiom, it implies that a situation is viewed from a distorted perspective. For example, “In problem situations, people tend to make mountains out of molehills.”

5.) To Serve as a Guinea Pig
For years, guinea pigs have been used in laboratories to test unproven methods or products. Here’s one example: “Jenny had never cooked before, but Martin agreed to serve as her guinea pig.”

6.) To Back the Wrong Horse
Horse racing has a profound impact on culture and language. This popular idiom means one made the wrong decision. Here’s an example: “When the stock market crashed, Gerald realized he had backed the wrong horse.”

7.) The Black Sheep of the Family
Like a redheaded stepchild, the black sheep of the family never quite fits in with their siblings, parents or relatives. In literary works, the black sheep is often portrayed as someone who does not have the same values as the rest of their family. For example, “John was the black sheep of the family. He painted, traveled and did not embrace his father’s business.”

8.) To Cast Pearls Before Swine
Pigs and pearls don’t go together. This idiom suggests that a gesture or gift is unappreciated or entirely misunderstood. Here’s an example: “Rosemary did not appreciate the Faberge egg Peter brought back from Russia. It was as if he were casting pearls before a swine.”

9.) A Cat Gets One’s Tongue
When a cat has one’s tongue, it’s impossible to speak or express one’s feelings. For example, “George was a shy child. When in front of a group, his mouth seized up like a cat had his tongue.”

10.) To Have a Tiger by the Tail
This popular idiom implies that one has taken control of a powerful or unwieldy situation that is too large to manage. However, giving up is even more dangerous. Here’s an example: “Larry was a novice, but he chose to climb Yellowstone’s famous El Capitan. It wasn’t long before he realized he had caught a tiger by the tail.”

These are just a few of the animal-related idioms and expressions that are used in literary works and everyday conversations. Do you have a favorite animal idiom or a zoological saying that you don’t understand? If so, share it below with other reader comments.

Related posts: