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20 Animal Idioms

6 min read
28 October 2020
student with a horse

English speakers use idioms to make the language more colorful, and these animal idioms are no exception! They will not only test your English skills, but these fun idioms are great for kids to learn and develop their vocabulary too! Have a look at our list of 20 Animal Idioms and discover how to go wild with your English learning: with everything from dog idioms, cat idioms, to elephant idioms!  


1. Black sheep 

This term is usually used to describe an odd member of a group. It could be used to refer to a person who is considered bad by the rest of their family. 

Example: “Steve is the black sheep of his family.” 


2. To bug someone  

To be irritating or to ask a person a series of questions. This idiom has a lot of variations, for example: "Stop bugging me!" and "Bug off".  They also mean to irritate someone, but they are usually associated with telling the person to go away too.  

Example: “Stop bugging me. You’re asking so many questions and it’s distracting.” 


3. To have butterflies in your stomach  

To be very nervous or anxious about something. It’s usually used when people are doing something for the first time or attending an important event, describing the churning sensation of your stomach when you are nervous. 

Example: “I’m hosting the big event next week. I have butterflies in my stomach already.” 


4. Cold Turkey 

Quitting something "cold turkey" means that you stop certain habits abruptly, usually without any preparation. 

Example: "I stopped drinking coffee cold turkey last month.” 



5. Cash cow 

Cash cow is used to describe something as being a dependable source of income.  

Example: “The company relied heavily on their best-selling product. It was their cash cow.” 


6. Cast Pearls Before Swine 

This simply means to give a gift to someone who does not appreciate it or has no use for it. For example, giving fancy jewelry to a homeless person who would rather have a hot meal. 

Example: “Why did you give Tom that for his birthday? You know he won’t use it– you’re casting pearls before swine.” 


7. Eager beaver 

When someone is enthusiastic when competing a task or goes beyond what is expected of them, they can be referred to as a “eager beaver”.  

Example: “You’ve completed the assignment already? You’re an eager beaver!” 


8. Elephant in the room 

If someone mentions an “elephant in the room,” they are referring to a very obvious problem. Everyone is aware of this problem, but no one wants to mention it because it is uncomfortable. 

Example: “We all knew that Harry lied in front of everyone last week, it was the elephant in the room"


9. Flogging a dead horse  

To repeatedly moan about something that cannot be changed, or to go over old arguments that were in the past. 

Example: “Stop bringing it up. You're flogging a dead horse at this point!"


10. Hold your horses 

This idiom is another common way of telling someone to wait or slow down. If a person is jumping into something too quickly, you would use this idiom to suggest that they wait. 

Example: “Hold your horses! We haven’t won yet and you’re already celebrating”.  


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11. In the dog house 

If someone is “in the dog house,” then they are in trouble or someone is upset with them. 

Example: “He shouldn’t have said that to her. He’ll be in the dog house now!” 


12. Kill two birds with one stone  

This means to get two tasks completed at once.  

Example: “I went grocery shopping and collected my parcel on the way home. Managed to kill two birds with one stone.” 


13. Look what the cat dragged in 

Something you say when somebody arrives looking dirty, disheveled or as if they have been in a fight. It can also be used as a remark for when someone new arrives in a room or area. 

Example: “Here she is, look what the cat dragged in!” 


students playing with a cat
Animal idioms are a fun way to get kids to enjoy learning English!


14. One trick pony 

When someone or something only has one talent or job they can perform well. Using this idiom is quite negative and implies that the person doesn’t really have much else to offer.  

Example: “He’s good at scoring goals, but terrible playing anywhere else on the field. He’s a one trick pony.” 


15. Plenty of fish in the sea 

This idiom is used in relation to failed relationships, that there are plenty of other potential partners out there, so don't be upset about one getting away. 

Example: “Don’t worry about him. There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” 


16. Rat race 

A “rat race” is when you have an exhausting and repetitive routine. It can relate to fierce competition for success or wealth, used primarily when referring to work situations.  

Example: “I’ve always wanted to be an accountant, but I don’t want to be part of this rat race anymore.”


17. Road hog 

Normally used to describe a dangerous driver or someone who takes over the road, driving recklessly. 

Example: "Philipp is a serious road hog. He was banned from driving for six months." 


18. (The) Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back 

A small issue that becomes the final cause of a system, business, or person to fail or give up. It closely relates to the idiom “the last straw”, and are used interchangeably.   

Example: “The company wasn't doing too well anyway, but when the final sales figures come through, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 


19. Until the Cows Come Home 

Used to describe that you can do something for a very long time. It can also be used when attempting activities that seem futile or a waste of time. It is usually shortened to “til the cows come home”. 

Example: “She keeps mopping the floor when people keep walking through. She’ll be cleaning it 'til the cows come home.” 


20. Top dog  

The most important person in a group or company. 

Example: “Michael was top dog when he became the captain of the football team."  

That's it! The top 20 Animal Idioms you should learn right now. Even if you memorize just a few of these popular idioms, you’ll sound much more like a native speaker and can impress people with your language skills. 


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