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Paul Sparks - Xiangtan University, Online Postgraduate (Phd Doctors) English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas...



Speaking Lesson: Animal Related Idioms


Lesson Objectives:
To help students understand the meaning of idioms.

What are Idioms?

Idioms are sayings or phrases which do not make much sense when looked at in normal English language. They are expressions which have no logical structure. For example the term "Red Herring", is an idiom meaning "false trail". It is used to mean something which is not red and not a herring.

A to Z of Common Animal Idioms:

"working like ants" - Working hard. 
"ants in one's pants" - to be very restless and impatient 

"a barking dog never bites" - Someone who makes threats all the time, seldom carries out the threats. 
"bark up the wrong tree" - Pursue an erroneous course of action. 
"his bark is worse than his bite" - Someone comes across as being very mean and nasty, but doesn't necessarily act on their threats 
"why keep a dog and bark yourself" - You should not do something you hired some one else to do. 

"As blind as a bat" - Blind. 
"have bats in the belfry" - Informal. to be mad or eccentric; have strange ideas 
"like a bat out of hell" - Fast. 

"like a bear with a sore head" - Very disgruntled. 
"have a bear by the tail" - to have a very difficult problem to solve 

"busy as a beaver" - Busy. 
"eager beaver" - someone who is very eager to do something 

"busy as a bee" - Busy. having bees in one's bonnet 
to be up in a tizzy about something. 

"a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" - Don't go after something if it means loosing what you have. 
"free as a bird" - Free. 
"a little bird told me" - I won't tell you who told me. 
"bird's-eye view" - Seen from above. 
"birds of a feather flock together" - Similar people tend to associate with each other. 
"killing two birds with one stone" - Accomplishing two things at the same time. 
"the birds and the bees" - Euphemistic or jocular. sex and sexual reproduction 

"throw you a bone" - To give you a compliment. 

"as snug as a bug in a rug" - Comfortable
"don't let the bed bugs bite" - Sleep Well. 

"take the bull by the horns" - to face and tackle a difficulty without shirking. 
"cock-and-bull story" - untrue story 
"like a bull in a china shop" - Someone who heedless of physical damage or the personal feelings of anyone, shoulders his way though delicate situations. 

"plain as the hump on a camel" - obvious 

"play cat and mouse" - to play with a person or animal in a cruel or teasing way. esp before a final act of cruelty or unkindness 
"not a cat in hell's chance" - no chance at all 
"fat cat" - A person high up in the business world with a lot of money. 
"copycat" -Some one who mimics some one else. 
"catnap" - A mid-day nap. 
"look what the cat dragged in" - A humorously derogatory comment on someone's arrival. 
"looks like something the cat brought in" - to appear disheveled or bedraggled. 
"curiosity killed the cat" - Warning about being curious. 
"a cat has nine lives" - Cats can survive things that are severe enough to kill them. 
"like a cat on hot bricks" - in an uneasy or agitated state. 
"cat got your tongue" - Unable to speak. 
"let the cat out of the bag" - To tell a secret -- normally accidentally. 
"not enough room to swing a cat" - Very little room. 
"raining cats and dogs" - It is raining very hard. 
"when the cat's away, the mice will play" - Without supervision, people misbehave. 
"like cat and dog" - quarrelling savagely 

"don't count your chickens before they are hatched" - Don't assume you have something until you really have it. 
"chicken" - a cowardly person 
"the chickens come home to roost" -You have to face the consequences of your mistakes or bad deeds. 
"no spring chicken" - Old. 

"How now, Brown Cow?" - what next, or what's going on 
"till the cows come home" - Late hours. 

"crocodile tears" - Fake tears. 

"as the crow flies" - From point A to point B directly. 
"stone the crows" - an expression of surprise, dismay, etc 

"dead as a dodo" - Dead; obsolete; completely washed up. 

"gone to the dogs" - Taken a turn for the worse.
"the hair of the dog that bit you" - The drink you drink in the morning to get over the drinks you drank the night before. 
"in the dog house" - In trouble. 
"dog tired" - Very tired. 
"sick as a dog" - Very sick. 
"a dogs breakfast" - Something bad. 
"itís a dog eat dog world" - Vicious world. 
"it's a dog's life" - Itís an easy life 
"dog eat dog" - ruthless competition or self-interest 
"like a dog's dinner" - Informal. dressed smartly or ostentatiously 
"let sleeping dogs lie" - Don't bring up an old issue/topic that will raise tempers or cause an argument 
"you cannot teach an old dog new tricks" - Someone who is used to doing things a certain way cannot change. 
"go see a man about a dog" - go use the toilet 

"if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck" - Assume the obvious. 
"dead duck" - someone or something that is certain to fail 
"a sitting duck" - An easy mark. 

"a white elephant" - A gift you don't want and you don't know what to do with it. 
"a memory like an elephant" - Never forgets. 

"nest egg" - a fund of money kept in reserve; savings 

"like a fish out of water" - Out of one's element. 
"drink like a fish" - A big drinker. 
"there's more than one fish in the sea" - There are always more options 

"would not hurt a fly" - Wouldn't harm anything. 
"catching flies" - open mouth 

"a fox" - a sexually attractive woman 
"out fox" - to trick; deceive 

"frog in your throat" - Scratchy voice. 

"a scapegoat" - One whom is inflicted punishment for the faults or wrongs of another.
"get someone's goat" - to irritate someone 

"whatís good for the goose is good for the gander" - What is good for one person is good for another; often what is good for the man is good for the woman. 
"cannot say boo to a goose" - shy 
"a wild-goose chase" - A vain pursuit of something, which, even if attained, would be worthless. 

"Knee high to a grasshopper" - short, small

"As mad as a March hare" - a mad person 

"hawk-eyed" - having extremely keen sight 

"hen party" - party for only women 

"red herring" - False trail. 

"hogwash" - nonsense 
"go the whole hog" - Informal. to do something thoroughly or unreservedly 

"sounding horse" - Scratchy voice. 
"as strong as a horse" - Strong. 
"look a gift horse in the mouth" - Having bad manners when accepting a gift. 
"to put the cart before the horse" - Doing something in reversed order. 
"straight from the horse's mouth" - From the highest authority. 
"wild horse couldnít drag me away" - Even the most disastrous events won't keep me from coming. 
"you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" - You can offer someone something but you cannot insist that they take it (e.g. advice). 
"horsing around" - Joking around. 
"hold your horses" - Just wait a second. 

"to have kittens" - To throw a fit. 

"as gentle as a lamb" - gentle
"like a lamb to the slaughter" - without resistance 
"two shakes of a lambís tail" - Very fast. 

"as happy as a lark" - very happy 

"a leopard cannot change his spots" - a person does not change 

"lionhearted" - very brave; courageous 
Source:, The Collins English Dictionary 
"a lion's share" - The greater portion. 

"make a monkey of" - someone made to look a fool 
"who gives a monkey's what he thinks" - to care about or regard as important 
"monkey suit" - a man's evening dress 
"well i'll be a monkey's uncle" - I am surprised. 
"monkey business (monkey-ing around)" - Something against the 'rules' but not too serious. 

"as quiet as a mouse" - Very quiet. 

"fly the nest" - Children must eventually leave home. 
"feathering one's nest" - Taking money on the side. 

"wise as an owl" - wise person 

"as strong as an ox" - very strong 

"the world is his oyster" - He can do anything. 

"fat as a pig" - large person 
"pig out" - Informal. to devour (food) greedily. 
"make a pig of yourself" - Eat all you want. 
"sweating like a pig" - sweating a lot 
"happy as a pig in mud" - happy and content 
"when pigs fly" -Never. 

"puppy love" - a juvenile crush on a member of the opposite sex

"a rat" - a despicable person 
"rat race" - Work force. 
"smell a rat" - Think that there is a traitor. 

"the chickens come home to roost" - You have to face the consequences of your mistakes or bad deeds. 

"card-shark" - A person who pretends they don't know how to play cards until they play for money, and then they play well and take all the profits. 

"a wolf in sheep's clothing" -Getting admission under false pretenses. 
"black sheep of the family" -most troublesome member of the family 

"a snail's pace" - Slow. 

"snake in the grass" - There is trouble. 
"slippery as a snake" - Tricky Ė unable to trust. 

"ugly as a toad"  -Ugly. 
Source: Bertram, Anne (Bowl of Cherries) 

"to talk turkey" - To talk straight or be honest. 
"a turkey" - a thing or person that fails; dud. 

"a weasel"  -Informal. a sly or treacherous person 

"to take under one's wing" - to protect, to mentor. 
"on a wing and a prayer "  - with only the slightest hope of succeeding 
" to clip someone's wings" - to restrict freedom 
"wing it" - to accomplish or perform something without full preparation or knowledge; improvise 

"keep the wolf from the door" - to ward off starvation
"throw to the wolves" - to abandon or deliver to destruction 
"to wolf down" - to gulp 
"to cry wolf" - false claim 

"to pull the wool over one's eyes" - To hoodwink (trick, hide). 

"even the worm will turn" - Even a meek person will become angry if you abuse him or her too much. 
"worm" a program that duplicates itself many times in a network and prevents its destruction

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