The following are common idioms that use animal words. Review the expressions, their meanings, and examples of how they may be used in sentences. Familiarize yourself with them, so that if you hear someone using one, you will know what he/she really means.
1. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks: This means that you can’t change someone’s habits Example: I tried to get my husband to take dancing lessons, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
2. crocodile tears: This refers to tears someone sheds to give the impression they are sad. We can also say that they are faking being sad. Example: The little girl was crying crocodile tears because her mother wouldn’t buy her a new toy.
3. to rat on someone: This means to tell what another person did, usually something negative. Example: The boy said he was going to rat on his sister if she didn’t stop crying.
4. don’t count your chickens before they hatch: This means that you shouldn't don’t depend on something before you know it’s going to happen Example: Don’t count your chicken before they hatch, you might not get that raise you asked for.
5. dog tired: This expression means very tired Example: I worked until 10pm last night, and I’m dog tired.
6. to let sleeping dogs lie: This expression means to let something alone, not to start trouble Example: Don’t bother Dad right now, just let sleeping dogs lie.
7. as stubborn as a mule: This refers to someone who is unwilling to listen and won’t change his/her mind Example: She won’t change her mind, she’s as stubborn as a mule.
8. to have a cow: This refers to when someone is upset Example: Don’t have a cow, just because I spilled the milk.
9. raining cats and dogs: This expression means raining very hard or pouring Example: The rain was coming down so hard, it was raining cats and dogs.
10. a little birdie told me: This refers to someone telling you something and you don't want the other person to know who it is. Example: A little birdie told me that you are going to have a baby.
11. a scaredy cat: This refers to someone who is afraid a lot Example: Mike is afraid of everything; he’s such a scaredy cat.
12. like a fish out of water: This refers to a situation that you don’t usually find yourself Example: Mark feels very uncomfortable at this party; he’s like a fish out of water
13. fishy: This means suspicious Example: Those boys over there look a little fishy to me.
14. it’s a dog-eat-dog world: This means that only the best win in a situation Example: In the business world, it’s a dog-eat-dog world.
15. hold your horses: This means to wait Example: If you hold your horses just a minute, I’ll be off the phone.
16. get it straight from the horse’s mouth: This means to get information from a reliable source Example: I got it straight from the horse’s mouth that our company is going to lay off 100 employees.
17. wild horses couldn’t keep me away: This means to be definitely going somewhere Example: I can’t wait to go to the concert; wild horses couldn’t keep me away.
18. horse sense: This means common sense Example: Mary has always had a lot of horse sense when it comes to doing the right thing.
19. to bark up the wrong tree: This means to ask the wrong person Example: If you’re asking me if I took your pen, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
20. an eager beaver: This is someone who is anxious and excited to do something Example: The new intern is such an eager beaver; he gets to the office every day one hour early.
21. chicken out: This is when someone plans on doing something then they don’t because they are afraid Example: We all decided to go parasailing, but John chickened out.
22. clam up: This means suddenly become quiet Example: When I asked him about what happened at the party, he just clammed up and wouldn't say anything.
23. every dog has his day: This means that everyone will have the day when they succeed Example: Don’t worry about your job; every dog has his day.
24. to work like a dog: This means to work very hard Example: I work like a dog every day, but I don’t think anyone appreciates me.
25. paper tiger: This is someone who acts very tough on the outside, but really isn’t on the inside. Example: Mark really won’t fire you; he yells a lot, but he's just a paper tiger.
26. as sly as a fox: This is someone who is very sneaky Example: I don’t think I like that new employee; he’s as sly as a fox.
27. as quiet as a mouse: This expression means to be very quiet Example: Mary is as quiet as a mouse; I never hear her talking to anyone.
28. to smile sheepishly, a sheepish grin: to smile in embarrassment and/or guilt for having done something wrong Example: I wonder why Amy is smiling so sheepishly.
29. the cat’s meow: This means high quality Example: That car you bought is amazing; it’s really the cat’s meow.
30. call off the dogs: This means to stop someone from defending or offending you Example: Would you call off your dogs for a minute while I talk to you?
31. the top dog: This means the leader Example: Amy became the top dog in our department when she was promoted to director.
32. in the doghouse: This means in trouble Example: If you smash the car again, you’ll really be in the doghouse.
33. his bark is worse than his bite: This refers to someone who talks strongly, but doesn’t usually take any action Example: John may get angry and yell a lot, but his bark is worse than his bite.
34. curiosity killed the cat: Being too curious tends to get people into trouble Example: Don’t try to find out too much information about the accident; curiosity killed the cat.
35. worker bee: This is someone who is low in rank, and does the same job each day Example: I’m tired of just being a worker bee; I want to be an executive someday.
36. go ape: This means to get very excited Example: She can’t help going ape over her favorite musician every times she see him.
37. make a beeline: This refers to straight to something without being distracted. Example: I need to make a beeline for the water fountain; I’m so thirsty.
38. as busy as a bee: This means very busy Example : Whenever I see our new secretary, she is always as busy as a bee.
39. birds of a feather flock together: People who are alike tend to associate with each other Example: All of the football players stay together; I guess birds of a feather flock together.
40. bull-headed: This means stubborn Example: If you would stop being so bull-headed and listen to me, I might be able to help you fix your computer.
41. dust bunny: This is a clump of dust or lint on the floor Example: I don’t like seeing dust bunnies on my kitchen floor.
42. black sheep: This is someone who is an outcast, especially in a family or organization Example: Matt has always been the black sheep of his family; he’s always in trouble.
43. to kill two birds with one stone: This refers to completing two things at the same time Example: If I can manage to get my groceries and a haircut while I’m out this afternoon, I can kill two birds with one stone.
44. more than one way to skin a cat: This means that there is more than one way to achieve something Example: There’s more than one way to skin a cat; try putting the puzzle together this way and see how it works.
45. the straw that broke the camel’s back: This refers to a seemingly small thing that results in a significant failure, usually referring to something that's been building over a period of time Example: Finding his room a mess yesterday was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.
46. to have ants in your pants: This term is used when someone is excited and moving around a lot, or when a a child for example can't sit still Example: Johnny is always fidgety; I think he has ants in his pants
47. big fish: This is someone important Example: My boss’s boss, who is the president of our company, is the big fish.
48. bird’s eye view: This refers to when you can see something clearly Example: I have a bird’s eye view of my neighbor’s pool from my kitchen window.
49. blind as a bat: This refers to someone with poor vision or someone who can’t see at all. Example: I think I need to get glasses; I’m as blind as a bat!
50. chickenfeed: This refers to a very small amount of money Example: What I earn per year is chickenfeed compared to the president of our company.
51. dog days: This refers to very hot summer days Example: I always enjoy the dog days of summer in Arizona.
52. cold turkey: This describes a person who abruptly gives up a habit Example: I quit smoking cold turkey last year and haven't had a cigarette since.