4/7/18 20 Animal Idioms in English (Part 2)

Idioms with Birds

  • Wild goose chase

This idiom means going after something that you are not likely to get, or a pursuit that is a waste of time because it is unlikely to succeed. It comes from the fact that it is very hard to catch a wild goose, so if you try to chase one, you are not likely to get it!
  • Quit cold turkey

If you quit something (a habit like coffee, smoking, drinking, etc.) “cold turkey,” it means you stop completely. Quitting smoking cold turkey would be deciding one day never to have another cigarette again. (Differently from slowly decreasing your smoking habit over time and eventually stopping).
There are two possible origins for this idiom – one is that when someone is addicted to drugs, and suddenly stops using the drugs, their skin becomes cold and gets bumps like a plucked turkey (a turkey without its feathers). The other possible origin is the fact that cold turkey is a dish that is quick and easy to prepare.
  • Watch something like a hawk

A hawk is a bird of prey – that means it hunts small animals for food. Because of this, a hawk needs to have very good vision and watch carefully to find the animals. So “watching something like a hawk” means watching extremely carefully.

Idioms with Fish

  • Like a fish out of water

The natural place for a fish to live is in the water – if a fish is outside the water, it would feel very uncomfortable! If you feel “like a fish out of water,” it means that you are very uncomfortable in a particular situation or environment.
  • Fish or cut bait

In the sport of fishing, “bait” is the food you put on the hook to attract the fish. If you “cut bait,” it means you abandon the bait and stop trying to catch fish. This idiom means “either do something, or else get out of the way” – you can say it to a person who is indecisive in order to motivate them to take one action or the other action.
  • Red herring

A “red herring” is a piece of information that draws attention away from the real facts of a situation. This idiom comes from the fact that a herring is a type of strong-smelling fish. If you are hunting with the help of a dog, and the dog smells a herring, it will be distracted by the strong smell and go in the wrong direction.

Idioms with Insects

  • Ants in your pants

If you have “ants in your pants,” it means you can’t stay still because you’re very agitated, excited, or worried.
  • Mad as a hornet

Someone who is “mad as a hornet” is extremely angry. Hornets are dangerous when they are angry, because they can sting.
  • Wouldn’t hurt a fly

If you say that someone “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” you are describing the person as very peaceful and non-violent. It is a person who is so gentle that they wouldn’t hurt anyone, even a small insect like a fly.