An (almost) A-Z of animal idioms/animal related language.


A: ‘go ape’ Verb phrase: to lose control and act wildly, usually from anger/excitement rather than fear.

B: ‘bear-market’ compound noun: a period when investors are cautious and saving their money/investing in bonds/commodities seen as safe rather than riskier shares etc. The opposite of a ‘bull-market’ where investors tend to ignore danger. 2 for the price of one because I can’t do U or X!

C: ‘catty’ Adjective: to speak or behave in a petty and belittling manner, often used in a derogatory tone about women.

D: ‘work like a dog’ simile: to work very hard/for a long time.

E: ‘elephants never forget’ idiom: meaning that someone has a very good memory for both bad and good things, and this will affect their attitude and judgement, both now and in the future.

F: ‘swim like a fish’ simile: someone who ‘swims like a fish’ swims very well.

G: ‘good for the goose… good for the gander’ idiom:  a mutually beneficial relationship/or exchange. Usually used together so a double rather than a two for one.

H: ‘Laugh like a hyena’ simile: someone who laughs loudly and without much control, often but not always derogatory.

I: ‘Insect’ noun: if you call someone an insect, you say they are small & unimportant but can imply pett/annoying/dirty/immoral as well depending on context.

J: ‘Jump like a kangaroo’ simile: to jump suddenly/high/far/well (depends on context and dialect).

K: ‘King of the jungle’ phrase: traditionally a lion, even though lions don’t often live in jungles, someone who is ‘king of their jungle’ is dominant in a particular situation/environment and will probably defend that position.

L: ‘Lion’s share’ idiom: the lion’s share is the best or largest portion of something.

M: ‘climb like a mountain-goat’ simile: someone who does this climbs very well.

Q1_MountainGoatAboveN: ‘sing like a nightingale’ simile: someone who sings like a nightingale has a beautiful voice/sings very well.

O: Ostriches are known for putting their ‘heads in the sand’ to avoid/ignore trouble.

P: ‘to play possum’ idiom: to pretend to be dead/beaten usually to gain advantage/discourage predators.

Q: ‘the queen bee’ idiom: a dominant or very important woman.

R: ‘run like a gazelle’ simile: to run quickly.

S: ‘sleep like a cat’ simile: someone who sleeps, a lot/anywhere/easily and well.

T: ‘to turtle’ verb:  if a boat turtles it turns upside down.

U: Any suggestions? Leave a comment.

V: ‘vulture at the feast’ idiom: if someone is a vulture at the feast they are waiting for something bad to happen which they expect to benefit from.

W: ‘To wolf’ (food) transitive verb: someone who wolfs their food (down) eats very quickly, often a lot as well.

X: Any suggestions? Leave a comment.

Y: ‘hairy as a yak’ idiom: someone/something that is very hairy, especially if the hair is messy.

Z: ‘zebra crossing’ compound noun (esp. UK): a safe place for pedestrians to cross a road, where all cars have to stop for them.

Gold – revised (with even more links and idioms).

Gold has long-held a fascination for people from all over the world however the fascination has varied across time and place. (MacGregor, 2013) This week there has been perhaps even higher with Mathew Hart‘s new book Gold: The Race for the Worlds Most Seductive Metal being serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week. The British Museum has also been contributing to this interest: it’s exhibition of Pre-Columbian Gold is on (until March so hurry).

Gold and idioms to do with it have also had a long connection with the English language. There are lots of uses for gold, whether it’s jewlery, money or high-end-electronics gold has a certain cachet in consumer circles. It also appears in popular culture from Goldfrapp  to James   Bond  Films, that’s right no fewer than 3 have used Gold in the title.


Good as gold originally comes from currency, many nations used gold as a metal for coinage, for something to be as good as gold means that it has a high value. This one is also often used with behaviour.

“How were the kids at the dentist’s?”

“They were as good as gold.”

– The gold standard is another term with connections to money. Gold which had a universally high value was used as a measure of exchange between countries, especially in Europe. A currency that was backed by the gold standard meant that any bank would change the money for gold. Going to town with £10-20 to spend can be nice but having to carry that much in metal would be heavy.

A gold-digger is often someone who gets in a relationship for the money (or the power, privilege or luxury it affords). This can be used for someone who is trying to get rich quick, without really working for it as well. For example someone who joins a wealthy but troubled firm, hoping for a pay out.

– If you strike gold you get lucky, usually in a financial sense. This can also mean that you put in a lot of hard work and it paid off, but perhaps better than could be expected.

Silence is Golden is another one that connects to behaviour, but, not only with children.

“Don’t tell John about the party”

“Silence is Golden” means they won’t say anything.

It can also be used as an instruction or warning for someone to keep quiet, or especially not say anything bad.

To go for gold comes from the world of sport, perhaps most notably in the Olympics where the best performance (without the help of drugs etc.) gets the gold medal. Going for gold means doing your best or trying to win, (this might shift a bit depending on context.

“Are you ready for the test?”

“I think so, I studied all weekend.”

“Well, go for gold, I’m sure it will be fine.”

Gold medal

Golden Boy, many offices have a golden boy usually a very talented young person who is expected to do really well and could be said to have a golden future. Interestingly, Golden Girl tends to mean someone nearer the other end of life; connecting to the idea of golden years the idea that once you’ve retired and your children have left home you can have a great time. The Golden one can be used to talk about someone of either gender who is starting a promising career. This has it’s links back to pre-Columbian society. Where one chieftain would cover themself with gold dust before diving into a lake, as part of a ritual to prove they had the right to lead. You might even say that someone who’s very lucky in business (or perhaps life in general) has the Midas touch. If you don’t believe they do the work or are quite as good as everyone seems to think you can say they lay golden eggs.

The Golden Rule: Also called the rule of thirds, in photography and graphic composition is about 1/3 so that any frame can be broken into 9 segments by applying the golden rule, where the four lines meet are natural focal points in the image.  It is also often connected with the bible’s Mathew 7:12 “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or basically be nice/fair to people so they are nice/fair to you.  The golden rule in any situation or discipline, is one that cannot/should not ever be broken.

Goldsmiths is a London University with links back to the old guild system where goldsmiths were credited with excellent technical skills, knowledge and abilities. This is a reputation that the university continues to enjoy in a number of fields.

The Golden Mile is claimed by a couple of resorts, usually to describe the concentration of tourist/nightlife activity, usually near a beach, even if it’s not a mile (Blackpool’s is 1.6 Miles long). The phrase is occasionally also used by racers similar to the home stretch, that part of the race near/leading up to the finish line, again not often exactly a mile long, (or even close).

Fool’s Gold can be used to describe anything that someone is putting too much value or focus on. Traditionally this is a folk name for pyrite.

PyriteAll that glitters is not gold – is a nice little idiom, often used to give advice to people who may not have their values clear in the mind of the speaker. If your friend is pursuing an attractive, but not very nice person, you might warn them with ‘all that glitters is not gold’ meaning they might look nice but they aren’t nice.

All this however, is not the end of Gold’s impact on our culture or minds. There is a quiz show, (that I didn’t know about until the orignal publication of this article) called Golden Balls, but there is also a sports merchandise firm associated with the Japanese and Korean World Cup but based in London of the same name, not to mention a hotel in Cambridgeshire. At least 3 radio stations broadcast ‘golden moments’ and golden showers have also been mentioned as slang in messages, of course with no clear definition. Please leave any other gold you find in the comments.

New Year’s Resolutions – 5 little things to get better

Five things you can do to improve your language & study skills.

With all our students at the University starting back on classes this week we thought you might like a few ideas to use for a New Year’s resolution. Whether you want to improve you language, (we’re guessing English, but these could work for almost any language) or become a better student, or both you should find something on this list to help.

  • Listen to the radio, podcasts, web radio or even the TV, if you are in a nosey mood you can even eavesdrop on the bus. This one is language based, and aural (listening) based. The wider the range of contexts, voices, accents and modes of speech you are familiar with the better able you will be to focus on your listening when you need it. The best thing about this is it feels easy, and makes listening fluency feel easy as well. As Kevin Bacon would say it’s a ‘no-brainer’! TV and video can also help you improve here, especially when subtitles (in your 1st or target language)  are available, but the images can also distract you and allow visually dominant thinkers to rely on the eye not the ear.
  • Keep a pocket notebook, or use an app for your phone. Everyone’s day is filled with meetings, trips to the gym, social events, meals to cook and eat etc. but it also has odd moments where you are waiting for those things to happen. This is when you pull out your notebook and start writing, (we admit it may not be as distracting as Angry Birds on the phone, but you can’t actually get marks for lobbing fowl at things). Writing well and easily is basically writing often. Just like speaking, if you don’t use your written language until you need it, it will not come quickly or easily when you do, (especially if you are under stress, like writing an essay). You can write down whatever comes into your head, make observations about, food, the weather, fashion, your class, or literally anything.

BOOK.jpg large

  • Read. This is a simple one, there is a wide variety of evidence supporting reading as the best way to develop vocabulary, but it’s much more than that. This is also another thing that is very easy to do. In the modern world we are surrounded by text, much of it in English and much that we are supposed to read. You don’t need to lug books around with you,there are any number of free e-books if you have a smart-phone/tablet/e-reader. Don’t worry about what you read: magazines; ‘trashy’ romances; pulp sci-fi etc. are all fine, some old fashioned thinking might say you should read the ‘classics’ but studies have shown as long as you are reading, and you are interested to continue reading you will improve your reading at more or less the same rate.
  • Speaking, you can probably guess a theme from the last three, yes practice makes perfect here as well. Some studies indicate that you can improve your social speaking with as few as ten interactions a day. It may sound like a lot but it’s not an interaction here: is the few words you exchange with the bus driver buying a ticket, or asking how close to X the bus stops or how long it takes to get to Y; it’s brief exchanges on the weather with fellow passengers, it’s going to the coffee shop not the machine; the teller as opposed to the bank machine and the cashier as opposed to self-check-out.
  • Focus on your subject, our first academic one, hopefully you chose your subject at Uni because it interests you, or at least aspects of it interest you, we may not love all of our studies all the time. Pursue that interest. Could one of those magazines be a journal in your field? Could a pod cast come from I-tunes U or TED etc.? The wider your engagement with your field of study, the more extensive your research the more likely you will be able to jump into projects and not need to think about them before you start. This will also feed back into the other skills. It will make lectures, seminars and tutorials easier and more fun reading and reports become much easier, and you will likely do better on the assessments, if that’s something you worry about.