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Learn Out Live Eng Idioms 1



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  • 1. Early Intermediate English Idioms Lesson #1: Animals! By Jeremiah Bourque
  • 2. Using Animal Idioms
    • Animal-related idioms can be well-known or quite obscure. Try to stick to the better-known ones, though you should learn all of them for comprehension.
    • I will try to present the better-known animal idioms here, gradually moving towards the more obscure.
  • 3. Birds of a Feather Flock Together
    • This children’s saying explains the idiom: “birds of a feather” are similar beings. When applied to people, we mean that people that are very alike are “birds of a feather,” and therefore, “flock together.”
    • This means that people who are alike tend to assemble in groups. It’s a basic statement about human behavior.
  • 4. Killing Two Birds With One Stone
    • To “kill two birds with one stone” is to succeed at doing two tasks simultaneously
    • Killing even one bird with a stone is difficult, so it’s best to use this expression for important tasks, not ordinary ones.
    • However, native speakers have been known to abuse this idiom and use it even for minor, trivial things.
  • 5. Cat Got Your Tongue?
    • If a “cat has (got) your tongue,” you are at a loss for words. You don’t know what to say. You are speechless.
    • This may be due to shock, confusion, or simply shyness.
    • This is a fairly polite expression (unless said in a rude tone, of course), so if said politely, it asks the other person to speak more in a gentle, friendly way.
  • 6. A Cat Nap
    • A “cat nap” is simply a short sleep (a nap).
    • “A cat nap” is probably a shorter nap than an actual housecat would take. They like to sleep! 
  • 7. Are You A Chicken?
    • To “be a chicken” is to be a coward: timid, shy, but more to the point, afraid/ fearful.
    • To “chicken out” is to decide not to do something out of fear, usually just before having to perform whatever “something” is.
    • Yes, this is a disparaging (insulting) term, but don’t be strung along (tricked/ deceived) into doing something stupid just because someone calls you “chicken!”
  • 8. Hey, Don’t Clam Up
    • To “clam up” is to become quiet. To “suddenly clam up” is to become quiet abruptly/ very quickly.
    • Unlike “cat got your tongue,” you can only clam up by starting to be quiet when you were not quiet previously.
    • Put another way, to “clam up” is to stop talking. Don’t use it if the subject wasn’t talking to begin with.
  • 9. No One Likes A Copy Cat
    • A “copy cat” is someone who copies one’s actions, like a mime.
    • “No one likes a copy cat” is an expression to say, no one likes being mocked by someone copying (and perhaps exaggerating) their behavior.
    • A “copy cat” or “copycat” crime is one that resembles a crime recently in the news media, such as “a copycat murder.”
  • 10. Hold Your Horses!
    • To “hold your horses” is to pause; to wait patiently for something to happen.
    • The phrase implies someone who is very eager for action (like a horse that wants to move forward).
    • If someone tells you to “hold your horses,” he/ she is telling you to wait . The expression is informal, but common, and is fairly strong in emphasis.
  • 11.  
  • 12. Something’s Fishy Here
    • If something is “fishy,” it has, figuratively speaking, a strong odor.
    • In idioms, something that “is fishy” is not what it appears to be ; there is some kind of sign that there is a hidden flaw, that is, something suspicious or fraudulent.
  • 13. Holy Cow!
    • “Holy cow!” is an idiomatic expression for surprise . Someone surprised by something sudden will exclaim, “Holy cow!”
    • This is, of course, an informal, not formal, phrase.
  • 14. He’s In The Dog House
    • To “be in the dog house” is to proverbially be banished from the home – that is, the house for human beings – and forced to take shelter with the family dog in the “dog house,” a tiny shelter for a dog built outside.
    • “Being in the dog house” has become a general metaphor for being in trouble with a person, such as having upset one’s wife.
  • 15. Getting The Lion’s Share
    • In the African wilderness, a lion – particularly the male lion that leads a “pride” (group of lions) – has the first choice of feeding at the corpse of an animal, whether or not the lion killed the animal itself. Why? Because the lion’s stronger than hyenas or other predators.
    • To “get the lion’s share” is to receive the largest portion of something.
  • 16. Killing Two Birds With One Stone
    • This means to accomplish two things at once.
    • If you think about it, killing two birds – small, fast creatures – with one stone, is an exceptionally difficult accomplishment. Ideally, use this idiom for a pair of unusual accomplishments.
    • Even so, natives tend to use this idiom for relatively trivial things.
  • 17. Fat Cats
    • A “fat cat” is a person who accumulates money and power for personal benefit.
    • Prior to modern concepts of healthy living, being overweight often indicated power and wealth, and a high chance of survival in a prolonged famine. Girth was proof of uncommon wealth.
    • Today, a “fat cat” is simply someone who is rich and lazy. Physical bulk is optional.
  • 18. Herding Cats
    • Cats are very individualistic creatures. The entire idea of “herding” a group of cats seems laughable; they aren’t seeking to follow each other.
    • “Herding cats” is an expression for the difficulty of getting strong individuals to do anything together. Today, it is famously applied to the Senate of the United States. As in, “As difficult as herding cats..”
  • 19. Letting The Cat Out Of The Bag
    • It is much easier to keep a cat in a bag than to catch the cat once it is out.
    • This is used as an expression for revealing secrets, especially unintentionally. The cat – the secret – cannot be put back into the bag. Once a secret is revealed, it cannot become a secret once more.
  • 20. Closing The Barn Doors After The Horse Has Bolted
    • Here, “bolted” means to escape at high speed; a horse that has bolted has fled.
    • Like ‘letting the cat out of the bag,’ you might accomplish something by closing the barn doors BEFORE the horse bolts.
    • This is to say, measures to maintain secrecy are useless AFTER the secret has already been revealed.
  • 21. A Bee In One’s Bonnet
    • A bonnet is a type of hat that was used in older times. Obviously, having a bee in one’s hat is not a comfortable experience!
    • Someone with “a bee in one’s bonnet” is constantly distracted by something, usually a thought of some kind or another.
  • 22. The Birds And The Bees
    • An American euphemism (cliché) for sexual education, usually by parents.
    • When a child asks awkward questions about sex, it is time for “the talk about the birds and the bees.” (That is, nature; that is, human biology and how babies come to be conceived and born.)
    • Modern parents may shorten this to simply “The Talk.”
  • 23. Taking The Bull By The Horns
    • This simply means to act decisively and take control of a situation.
    • Grasping the horns of a real bull is not recommended. In a test of strength, the bull wins every time.
    • Metaphorically, this is to neutralize the danger posed by a situation.
  • 24. A Cash Cow
    • A “cash cow” is a regular source of income that, metaphorically, can be “milked” for steady, regular cash.
  • 25. Snail Mail
    • The term “snail mail” came into use after e-mail (electronic mail) came into use.
    • “Snail mail” refers to what used to be referred to simply as “mail,” that is, letters and packages through the Post Office system.
    • The term is not usually applied to UPS, FedEx and other courier services.
  • 26. Packed Like Sardines
    • To be “packed like sardines,” people must be packed very tightly.
    • A bus packed to its capacity (or even beyond) could be said to pack its human passengers “like sardines.”
  • 27. The Black Sheep of the Family
    • A “black sheep” is someone who is different from the others (opposite of “birds of a feather”) and who is disliked because he or she stands out.
    • The “black sheep” of a family is the least liked member of a particular family. This status may be deserved or undeserved; a “black sheep” could have a notorious reputation.
  • 28. A Whale Of A Time
    • To have “a whale of a time” is to enjoy yourself very much. This is as if your enjoyment was the size of a whale – a great deal of enjoyment indeed.
  • 29. A Snake In The Grass
    • A “snake in the grass” is a person who is a danger to you, lurking behind cover. This is an expression for someone who acts like your friend, but who is actually a backstabber, a false friend.
    • A snake in the grass is synonymous with being untrustworthy.
  • 30. When Pigs Fly!
    • If something will only happen “when pigs fly,” it is not likely to happen ever . Pigs flying is also unlikely to happen ever!
    • Alternative: “Pigs might fly”
    • Alternative: “When pigs have wings”
  • 31. Putting Lipstick On A Pig
    • A pig is considered so naturally ugly that “putting lipstick on a pig” is a waste of effort to make the pig look pretty.
    • The expression is used to say that it is futile and worthless to try to make something (in polite conversation, always a thing , not a person!) look better when honesty demands it be considered ugly. Applied to: Lying to improve appearances
  • 32. Like Moths To A Flame
    • When people are attracted to things that are harmful to them, they are behaving “like moths to a flame.” (Older: Like moths to an open flame, like a campfire, an open lantern, etc.)
    • Moths are attracted to light at night, even if that light is from an open fire. If one flies too close by mistake, the moth gets burned!
  • 33. “Beating A Dead Horse”
    • To metaphorically “beat a dead horse” is to continue an action, particularly an argument, long after the outcome has been decided.
    • It is useless to whip (beat) a horse that is already dead: it’s not going to move!
    • The expression is used for wasting time and effort on something that is not possible OR is purely punitive .
  • 34. A Guinea Pig
    • Guinea pigs are animals that have been frequently used for scientific (medical) experimentation.
    • “A guinea pig” is a being, usually a human, who is being used like a guinea pig, that is, as the subject of an experiment.
    • Being treated like a guinea pig also means being expected to fail most of the time, even before a task is attempted.
  • 35. A Fly In The Ointment
    • “Ointment” refers to some sort of cream, like cream applied to the face for beauty. Obviously, a woman does not want to open a container of such cream to see a dead fly in it!
    • “A fly in the ointment” is an obvious, critical flaw. Some view poor English as a potential fly in the ointment for getting a job – so know the phrase!
  • 36. A Fish Out Of Water
    • A real-life fish out of water cannot breathe and will soon suffocate and die. It is out of its element (its element being water ).
    • A person who is “like a fish out of water” is doing something or is located somewhere alien, foreign and for that individual, very difficult.
    • A poor speaker of English in an English-speaking country is “a fish out of water.”
  • 37. Theme: Ducks
    • A “lame duck” is someone or something in prolonged difficulty; impotent.
    • A “sitting duck” is an easy target.
    • A “dead duck” is something certain to fail.
    • To “get your ducks in a row” is to become well organized. To master English is to get your ducks in a row for future success!
  • 38. Every Dog Has His Day
    • When people say “every dog has his day,” they mean that even the lowliest person has an opportunity to shine.
    • This is not necessarily true, but people consider this to be a nice sentiment (a thought that makes a person feel better).
  • 39. Until The Cows Come Home
    • “Until” is often shortened to “’till” in this expression.
    • “ ‘Till the cows come home” means, something can be done for so long, or will take so long, that the action can, or will, last all day .
    • On a farm, the cows come home to the barn at the end of the day to sleep.
  • 40. Chickening Out
    • To “chicken out” is to behave cowardly; to act like a coward; to display no courage.
    • When someone is called “a chicken,” this is accusing the person of chickening out.
    • Accusing someone of “being a chicken” ranges from mildly insulting to highly insulting depending on the sensitivity of the listener. Don’t use the expression blindly!
  • 41. “Like A Headless Chicken”
    • Long version: “Acting like a chicken with its head cut off.”
    • While a grisly image, a chicken that has its head chopped off will continue to run around blindly for a short period of time until its heart finally stops. This action is purely instinctive.
    • This is an expression for thoughtless, panicked behavior.
  • 42. Breaking the Back of the Beast
    • To “break the back of the beast” is to overcome a major obstacle.
    • Think of it like a video game: “breaking the back of the beast” is like slaying a dragon, which is a major accomplishment.
    • To master English as a Second Language would be to “break the back of the beast.” Good luck!!