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English Animal Expressions Part I

English, like many languages, uses a lot of idioms referring to animals. You may have heard the English expression "as hungry as a horse" (very hungry) or "monkey see, monkey do" (when somebody copies somebody else). What these expressions have in common in all languages is that they refer to some quality that is associated with a specific animal in that culture: Horses eat a lot of food and monkeys can be mimics—always compared to humans, of course. Let's take a look today at some English animal expressions.


All of the sudden, one of the orcas made a beeline in this direction.

Caption 2, National Geographic: WILD Killer Whale vs. Great White Shark

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Similar to the English expression "as the crow flies"—meaning the fastest way between two points is a straight line—the phrase "to make a beeline" means "to go quickly" or "to go directly." Speaking of bees:


Leave me the birds and the bees.

Caption 21, Counting Crows with Vanessa Carlton: Big Yellow Taxi

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The phrase "to know about the birds and the bees" means "to have received education about sex," but it is often used as a general metaphor for sex. And now we're on to birds:


I killed two birds with one stone!

Caption 36, English: Common Phrases

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This expression fortunately has nothing to do with actually killing any poor birds, but means "to get two (or more) things done at once." There's also another somewhat similar idiom, "better a bird in the hand than two in the bush." This means it is better to actually have something real than risk losing it by trying to get something better. Speaking of birds again:


Well if he wants to play chicken, this rooster ain't backing down.

Caption 15, How I Met Your Mother: The Perfect Cocktail

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The phrase "to play chicken" means to play a dangerous game to see who is bravest. A famous movie used this as part of its plot: In the film Rebel without a Cause, the actors James Dean and Corey Allen "play chicken" by racing cars towards the edge of a cliff to see who will dare to stay in the car the longest before jumping out. Spoiler alert: it doesn't end well!


At that moment, the witch realized that there was something fishy, and started yelling at her.

Captions 45-46, Fairy Tales: Rapunzel

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The usual expression is "something fishy is going on," and it means that something about a person or a situation is suspicious or not as it appears. It probably comes from the fact that even though a fish at the market may look fine, it smells bad if it is no longer fresh.


Further Learning
Go to Yabla English and study the captions in the videos above to get a better idea of the contexts in which they have been used. You can also go to this site and see some other English phrases that use animals.

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