Bird-brained: Animal name calling

Sly like a fox. Eagle eyes. Busy as a beaver.

There are a lot of animal-themed metaphors, similes and idioms in our vernacular. They’re so second-nature that I rarely notice myself saying them. Some expressions come from an animal’s natural characteristics and I don’t mind using them.

two crows

What’s wrong with being a night owl, for instance?

Other times, expressions belittle animals of have an inherently cruel theme. Yes, stick and stones may break bones, but words are powerful and I’m trying to adopt a more inclusive vocabulary. Not because it’s politically correct but because the way we talk affects the way we think. I’ve already written about animals and gender-specific pronouns, and now I’ve compiled a list of some expressions I’m trying to avoid:

  • Too chicken (to do/say something); chicken out
  • Pig, pig out, or eat like a pig
  • Ugly as a toad
  • More than one way to skin a cat
  • Chicken in every pot
  • Bleed like a stuck pig
  • Like a chicken with its head cut off
  • Kill two birds with one stone
  • Not enough room to swing a cat
  • Kill the fatted calf
  • So hungry I could eat a horse
  • No point beating a dead horse
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • Shooting fish in a barrel
  • Bigger fish to fry
  • Big enough to choke a hog
  • Don’t count your eggs before they’ve hatched
  • Like a lamb to slaughter

Here are some that I think are fun and appropriate:

  • When pigs fly
  • Gentle as a lamb
  • Have your tail between your legs
  • Water off a duck’s back
  • An elephant never forgets
  • Let sleeping dogs lie
  • It’s a dog’s life
  • Every dog has his day
  • Horse around
  • In the doghouse
  • Raining cats and dogs
  • Quick as a rabbit
  • Two shakes of a lamb’s tail
  • Eagle eyes
  • Sharp as a hawk
  • Birds of a feather flock together
  • Lion-hearted

I’m not going to go ape and bark up the wrong tree if you don’t take the bull by the horns, but can you think of other suitable or inappropriate expressions? Can you think of alternatives for the unsuitable ones?

7 thoughts on “Bird-brained: Animal name calling

  1. Your mom and I had fun with this topic….I recall we came up with “an oat in the throat” (even rhymes) instead of “a frog in the throat”.

    • Thanks Celeste! It’s something for me to think about too. I almost used “I don’t have a dog in that fight” yesterday but held back. I couldn’t think of an alternative on the spot so I skipped the simile and said I didn’t have a vested interest in the issue (boring). Obviously saying that wouldn’t mean I condone dog fighting but I don’t want to get desensitized to that language either.

  2. Love it!! I agree, words are powerful and symbolize our thoughts. A better expression for “more than one way to skin a cat” is “more than one way to peel an orange.” Instead of “kill two birds with one stone,” how about “light two candles with one match”?

    Some suitable idioms: harmless as a dove; cute as a kitten; the cat’s pajamas; the bee’s knees.

    Some inappropriate ones: stubborn as a mule; pig in a poke; cat in a sack.

    • Excellent! I love your examples, especially “more than one way to peel an orange!” I’ve said “feed two birds with one hand” before but your version (two candles, one match) is better. Thanks for commenting!

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