3rd April 2022
An albatross around your neck
Meaning: A burden or something unpleasant that stays with you
“He wrote that tweet when he was angry, and everybody saw it. It’s like an albatross around his neck now.”
The phrase comes from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, where a sailor shoots an albatross, a symbol of good luck, and is forced to wear the dead bird around his neck.
To have ants in your pants
Meaning: Always moving around, not sitting still
“Keep still ! Do you have ants in your pants ?”
In Greek, ants are myrmex. The soldiers who followed the hero Achilles were referred to as Myrmidons. One origin myth is that ants survived a plague, and the god Zeus turned these into people. Even today, ants have been found to be extremely resistant to nuclear radiation.
Bear with me
Meaning: Please wait a very short time
“Let me check for you. Bear with me a minute.”
In some Native American cultures, the bear is a symbol of a teacher
Birds of a feather flock together
Meaning: People tend to stay with or befriend people with similar interests or habits
“The naughty students all sit together. Birds of a feather !”
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
Meaning: It is better to have something definite than something better but uncertain
“Should I buy these now or wait until next week when they may be cheaper ?” “Buy now. A bird in the hand.”
The European bird Robin Redbreast actually has an orange chest, but the word ‘orange’ didn’t exist in English until the 16th Century, by which time the bird was already known as ‘redbreast’.
To let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: to tell a secret
“John told me. He let the cat out of the bag.”
No room to swing a cat
Meaning: Very limited space. However, the ‘cat’ here is a whip used by the navy, a cat o’ nine tails.
Cats were sacred to the Egyptian god Bast (or Bastet), so killing one was extremely unlucky. Cats helped kill rodents, who would eat the grain, and were therefore treated with the highest respect.
Don’t be chicken
Meaning: Do not be afraid
“Come on, let’s watch this horror film. Don’t be a chicken !”
Meaning: A person who is alarmist, who always predicts that bad things will happen
“Jane says we should cancel the picnic because it may rain, but she’s such a Chicken Little.”
Chickens, who originate from southeast Asia, have remarkable memories. They have been found to identify over 100 other chickens just by their faces.
The tail wagging the dog
Meaning: The person or people in control are actually being forced to do something they don’t want.
“Your students tell you what they are going to do ? That’s the tail wagging the dog.”
Talking the hind legs off a donkey
Meaning: Someone who can talk and talk, extremely loquacious
“He could talk the hind legs off a donkey.”
Donkeys are mentioned over 140 times in the NIV of The Bible. They are seen as symbols of peace and servitude. An ass is a wild donkey. A donkey is the ‘star’ of Robert Bresson’s 1966 film ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’.
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3 thoughts on “Animals: idioms, phrases and interesting facts A – D”
Nice interpretation of idioms. Love donkeys. They are so uncomplaining and wish they will be treated well by people.
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Thank you. Some of these expressions will be regional, but’s it’s always interesting to see how widespread idioms can be across the English-speaking world. I like your lists of new words too 🙂