English Lessons


English Animal Expressions Part II

English, like many languages, uses a lot of idioms referring to animals. Let's continue from Part I and take a look today at some more English animal expressions.


We're dying like flies down here!

Caption 16, Stephen King: The Stand

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The more common phrase is "dropping like flies," and probably comes from people having seen many dead flies on window sills, which gave the impression that they die in large numbers. The phrase usually means that many people have gotten sick or are dying.


We'd get together and horse around a little bit and sing.

Caption 5, Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock

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The phrase "to horse around" probably comes from seeing horses play, and means "to fool around." Another common related phrase with a similar meaning is "to indulge in horseplay."


Everything is fast paced in a rat race.

Caption 10, Core Kiteboarding: The Core Diaries

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The term "rat race" probably comes from seeing rats run a long way to try to get a small piece of food. Wikipedia describes "rat race" as "an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit." In American English, "getting out of the rat race" means to quit a stressful job and pursue a less hectic means of employment.


I wouldn't say it was a wild goose chase...

Caption 41, Karate Kids, USA: The Little Dragons

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A "wild goose chase" is a fool's errand, or an attempt to pursue something that is hopeless. It probably comes from wild geese being difficult to catch.


The King James Bible is the book that taught us that "a leopard can't change its spots," that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,"  that "a wolf in sheep's clothing" is harder to spot than you would imagine, and how annoying it is to have "a fly in your ointment."

Captions 18-21, The History of English: The King James Bible

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This caption addresses four common animal sayings. "A leopard can't change its spots" means that it's impossible or very difficult for a person to change their character. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" means that you shouldn't risk what you have if you might lose it seeking additional gain. It can also mean you should be satisfied with what you have. "A wolf in sheep's clothing" suggests somebody who is pretending to be a friend, but is in fact an enemy. Lastly, "the fly in the ointment" means that something unexpected has caused something to go wrong. It's also a warning that something may seem too good to be true.


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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