Skip to main content

Common Expressions About Animals

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She writes articles that are interesting to her readers.

How many expressions about animals do you know?

How many expressions about animals do you know?

Interesting Stories Behind Common Expressions

There are so many interesting stories behind the common words, phrases, expressions, and clichés we use without giving much thought to them at all. This article is dedicated to common expressions about animals.

  • What's a dark horse?
  • What's a snake in the grass?
  • What's a bull in a china shop like?
  • How can it rain cats and dogs?
  • Why would curiosity kill the cat?
  • And why would the mice play when the cat is away?
  • What's a gentle animal?
  • What's a scapegoat?

About Birds

  • "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" means it is risky to sacrifice one thing or accomplishment for the uncertain hope of gaining more. The implication is to hold on to what you have rather than risk losing it for what you hope to get.
  • "Birds of a feather flock together." Birds are better flocking together than being alone. Like-minded people associate together, as do birds of the same species.
  • "Don't count your chickens before they hatch," means one cannot rely on expectations or assumptions. It is much better to only rely on what is certain.
  • Being "no spring chicken" describes an older woman or a person beyond their youth.
  • What does it mean to say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander"? When you think about it, it is easy to see what it means. What's good for one person is just as good for someone else especially when the two people are on the same or similar level. A goose is female, and a gander is a male counterpart. What's good for one is just as good for the other. Keep in mind that this expression can have a negative connotation if a punishment for one person should be the same for another.


  • "While the cat is away, the mice will play." This quote means those in charge do not see what their employees do in their absence and do not know what goes on behind their backs.
  • When a person doesn't speak up, we say, "the cat has his tongue." That refers to a custom in ancient Egypt that was used as a punishment for liars. Liars would supposedly have their tongues ripped out and fed to the cats.
  • It is said that "curiosity killed the cat." Too much curiosity can cause one to abandon caution and encounter unseen danger, and perhaps get killed.


  • "Let sleeping dogs lie" means don't stir up trouble when all is calm. You know how things are while the dogs are sleeping, but you risk a change when you wake them up. They might growl, pounce on you, or even bite you. The same is for people. It is best to leave them alone rather than disturbing them.
  • How can a person be "as sick as a dog?" When a person is very sick and suffering from an ailment, he is said to be as sick as a dog. Since a dog is a favorite house pet, it often eats things it shouldn't and ends up getting sick.
  • Do you have any idea what a "dog-eat-dog-world" is? The expression is a way of life where people fight to get to the top. They fight like dogs while competing to become successful.
  • "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is a common expression. Why is the animal that is referenced a dog instead of a cat or some other animal? The expression actually means it is difficult to teach someone set in their own ways to change them. Animal trainers know it is best to teach a young dog instead of waiting for it to get older. An older dog, like older people, likes doing things a certain way and will resist learning something new.
  • How is the weather when it is "raining cats and dogs?" That expression means it is raining very hard. In Norse mythology, cats were associated with heavy rain, and dogs were associated with a storm wind. Also, in the 17th and 18th centuries, many cats and dogs were found dead after a heavy flood. Many were found in the streets afterward as if they had fallen from the sky along with the rain.

Farm Animals

  • A scapegoat is a goat upon whose head the sins of the people were symbolically placed, after which the goat was sent into the wilderness as a method of atonement for the sins of the people. Today, a scapegoat is someone on whom the blame of others has been placed.
  • "You can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink" means you can suggest something to another person, but you cannot force that person to do what he does not want to do.
  • You hear the expression "dark horse" in politics when you don't know much about the candidate.
  • "Take the bull by the horns" means a person should take charge of a difficult or dangerous situation.
  • "Like a bull in a china shop" describes a clumsy person who is too rough with a delicate situation. It comes from the illustration of someone who is near breakable items in an expensive store, especially one with fine china like plates and other dishes.
  • "A snake in the grass" describes someone who is sneaky to get what he wants. He hides his cunning ways for others.
  • A gentle person is compared to a lamb. That's why we might hear someone say, "She is as gentle as a lamb."
  • "The straw that broke the camel's back" means someone was close to his limits, and something as light as a straw could bring him to his breaking point. A light straw would not break the strong back of a camel unless other things had happened previously.

Which Bird or Animal?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. A careless person in an expensive store is like which animal?
    • A cat with someone's tongue
    • A sleeping dog
    • A bull in a china shop
    • A chicken that is about to be hatched
  2. What is a political candidate called that no one knows little or nothing about?
    • A bull in a china shop
    • A sleeping dog
    • A dark horse
    • A snake in the grass
  3. A gentle person is compared to this animal.
    • A snake in the grass
    • A sleeping dog
    • A dark horse
    • A lamb
  4. What in your hand is worth two in the bush?
    • A chicken
    • A cat
    • A dog
    • A bird
  5. Which animal did curiosity kill?
    • A dog
    • A cat
    • A snake
    • A dark horse

Answer Key

  1. A bull in a china shop
  2. A dark horse
  3. A lamb
  4. A bird
  5. A cat


Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on October 29, 2017:

Thanks, Tim, for reading, taking the quiz and commenting. I have always been fascinated with common expressions. Therefore, it was a fun process for me to share what I like with others. I have many more similar articles I intend to write. Enjoy your day!

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on October 28, 2017:

Wonderful article. The quiz was fun. I learned quite a bit. Thanks.

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on October 28, 2017:

Thanks so much, Betty A F for reading and commenting. I truly enjoy writing articles like that. I am glad to know you took the time to read and complete the quizzes. I intend to write more articles like that. Look out for them.

Betty A F from Florida on October 28, 2017:

This was a fun article to read. I got a 100% on the test too!

The pictures are just beautiful, and it really is amazing how so many different sayings involve animals!

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on October 28, 2017:

Peachy, thanks for reading and commenting on my hub. There are many more animal expressions that people use. I deliberately didn't write about all of them because I will use them to update my hub from time time. I have discovered that's a good technique for keeping it current. Also, that's what HubPages has suggested we do.

I noticed your "Home Sweet Home" expression in your profile. I recently wrote an article about the differences between a "house" and a "home." I used the expression "Home Sweet Home" in my hub. Feel free to check it out when you get a chance.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on October 28, 2017:

a wonderful hub, I didn't know there are so many animal expressions in the world