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Jim Walker: Idioms that make our animal friends ‘go wild’

Don't Take Me Seriously

Posted: April 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.

When I find myself facing a column deadline in an unusually short week, as mine is this week, I usually take the easiest route available — and, of late, that has had me mining the wealth of idioms floating around in the weird word world.

As I remind you each time I cop out this way, an idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (for example: raining cats and dogs).” And, as with said cats and dogs, animals are quite often the unwitting subjects of idiom character assassination.

But they really don’t care what we think of ’em, as long as we feed ’em, right?

So, here we go again.

And, I hope you don’t mind being “used as guinea pigs.” You see, if this goes well, I might take it on the road. If it doesn’t, I might feel “as awkward as a cow on roller skates.”

So how about those cows, anyway? I mean, there are “sacred cows” and “cash cows” — with the former, it’s something you are supposed to leave alone, and the latter is something you want to “milk as long as you can.” But, “holy cow,” you might “have a cow” if someone makes you wait “until the cows come home.”

Oh, I’m just getting warmed up.

There are “eager beavers,” you know, which is usually a good thing. And an eager beaver is almost always “as busy as a beaver.” But, though industrious, this beaver might suffer from self-esteem issues if it is “as buck-toothed as a beaver” — as is quite often the case.

Monkeys, on the other hand, are not so industrious. More often than not, they just “monkey around” with things or work at “monkey business.” And if one of them sees another at this pursuit, well, it’s “monkey see, monkey do.” Worse yet, in doing this, they sometimes “make a monkey out of you,” which can cause you to “go ape,” especially if this bad reputation sticks with you and you can’t “get the monkey off your back.”

Similarly, mice are known to be less than productive, which is probably why they are always “as poor as church mice.” And it is well known that “when the cat’s away, the mice will play.” But what happens when the cat isn’t away? Well, then the mice get the short end of “playing cat and mouse.”

Now, these little fuzzies usually get by being “quiet as a mouse.” But when they do speak out, it’s best not to listen to them, because you know what happens to “the best-laid plans of mice and men.”

Rats are held in even less esteem, but they’ve earned this, my friends. They will always “rat on you” or “rat you out” when given the opportunity. I mean, just don’t trust ’em. And you should definitely “smell a rat” when one of them invites you out to the “rat race.”

And what about those ungulates, hey? By scientific definition, they are always on their toes, but they still can’t escape idiom abuse. On the positive side, it is usually an “awww” thing when one is “as gentle as a lamb” or “as meek as a lamb.” But this can really shorten a lifespan, maybe like to “two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” when they go “like lambs to the slaughter.”

On the other hand, you never want to be “the black sheep of the family.” And you always want to “separate the sheep from the goats” because, otherwise, you might “get someone’s goat,” which is not a friendly thing to do.

And, finally, wolves get the worst rap of all. I mean, the least offensive thing they do is to “wolf down” things. Sometimes they “fleece” other animals, which can result in a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” They are also known to “cry wolf,” which you might think would result from “a lone wolf” being, you know, lonely. But it’s a whole other deal, calculated to desensitize you so you forget to “keep the wolf from the door” or fail to “keep the wolves at bay.”

And though it is well known that “a growing youth has a wolf in his belly” PR being what it has been over the centuries, the fairy tales usually have things the other way around. And that’s “something to howl about.”

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