Animals: idioms, phrases and interesting facts A – D (part 2)

6th April 2022

Alligators and Crocodiles

See you later, alligator

Meaning: informal way of saying goodbye.

Comes from a song written by Robert Charles Guidry, and released in 1955. The lines are:

“See you later, alligator, after while, crocodile.”

Crocodiles are bigger and more aggressive than alligators. A crocodile’s snout is V-shaped, an alligator’s is U-shaped. Viewed from the front, a crocodile will display both sets of teeth while the alligator only shows the top row.


Crocodile tears

Meaning: shedding fake tears

“He acted like he was sad but they were just crocodile tears.”


Blind as a bat

Meaning: to have very bad eyesight

“I can’t see without my glasses, I’m blind as a bat.”

Bats, actually, are not blind but have very sensitive vision, especially for seeing in the dark. However, bats use a form of sonar called echolocation to search for food, and to help with navigation. They do this by producing sound waves above the range of human hearing. Additionally, the belief that bats always turn left when flying out of a cave is simply not true.


To be buffaloed

Meaning: to be confused, puzzled, or tricked by someone. This, I believe, is an idiom from the USA although I have never come across it, either in life or in the media.

Buffalos are native to Africa and Asia, bison in the USA and Europe. Although related, they are different species. Buffalo Bill, a soldier, hunter and showman, should really have been named Bison Bill


The butterfly effect

Meaning: a small, insignificant action can have enormous consequences. Based on Chaos Theory; if a butterfly flaps its wing in Brazil, will it cause a hurricane in Japan ?

The link between butterflies and Chaos Theory is actually based on the patterns made on paper when recording data:


The straw that broke the camel’s back

Meaning: a small but final event that causes someone to react strongly

“My boss kept making me overtime, but when he told me I had to work on my free day, I quit ! It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

A perennial question in my Young Learners’ class is “What does a camel store in its hump ?” the answer being fat (not water). Furthermore, camels have three sets of eyelashes. However it is perhaps not so widely known that camel milk is incredibly healthy.


Until the cows come home

Meaning: some thing that will take a long time, last a long time, or will never happen

“Steven owes me money but I’ll be waiting until the cows come home before he pays me.”

In the Marx Brothers film ‘Duck Soup’ (1933) Groucho declares, “I could dance with you ’til the cows come home. On second thoughts, I’d rather dance with the cows ’til you come home.”

Cows have 32 teeth but lack upper front ones. They have great memories and sense organs, being able to smell something up to six miles away.


Like a deer caught in the headlights

Meaning: paralysed with fear, unable to move. Totally shocked or surprised and unable to speak or react.

“When his mum caught him at the mall instead of being at school he was like a deer caught in the headlights.”

The Chinese water deer is the only species of deer not to have antlers. Deers, apart from having a great sense of smell and hearing, have a wide field of vision due to their eyes being on the side of their heads.


Water off a duck’s back

Meaning: something done or said that has no effect

“She kept insulting her boyfriend about his laziness and being a slob but it was all water off a duck’s back.”

See you later, alligator !

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