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Animal references help us communicate

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While listening to a conversation between two people in a local business, recently I overheard the terms “stubborn as a mule” and “blind as a bat,” phrases that most of us, depending on our ages, have also either heard or used many times ourselves.

This got me thinking about how dependent as a society we have become in using similar animal references like these as descriptive adjectives or adverbs, idioms, catchphrases, expressions and slang terms and how they comprise such a large part of our spoken language.

As I often do in cases like this, I jotted down these two references and then began a list of my own including not only these, but any others I could either recall from memory or locate on the internet.

After a couple days I had to stop working on the list due to lack of time, but I was able to accumulate quite a few of the several thousand or more that probably exist.

Below are the items I came up with. As you will see, several are not only extremely colorful but also downright hilarious.

Some were even funnier than these listed, although since this is a family newspaper, they were also unprintable.

While the origin of some might require a simple explanation a few are more complicated and may have involved additional research such as “Happy as a clam,” which is derived from the full phrase “Happy as a clam at high tide.”

Since clams can only be dug up during low tides, they are safer and more secure — and thus happy.

Some involve basic domestic animals like the horse with; “Horse-laugh,” “Hold your horses,” “Horse of a different color” or “Eat like a horse.”

Cats are represented with, “Like a cat with nine lives,” “More than one way to skin a cat,” “Like a cat on a hot tin roof,” “The cat’s meow,” “Let the cat out of the bag” or “Like the one-eyed cat peeping in a seafood store,” lyrics from “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Big Joe Turner (1954) and Bill Haley & His Comets (1954).

As for the dog, we have “Sick as a dog,” “Cute as a speckled puppy” or “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and for the pig and hog, we have “Happy as a pig/hog in slop,” “Pig-headed” or “In hog heaven.”

Many I had heard my mother use including “Like a bull in a china shop,” “Mean as a snake,” “Like a chicken with its head cut off,” “Got ants in your pants,” “Wild goose chase,” “I’m so hungry I could eat a raw dog running” and “Mad as a hornet.”

Also, “Stubborn as a mule,” “Frog-strangler” (heavy rain), “Stirring up a hornet’s nest,” “You’re not a spring chicken anymore” and “Quiet as a mouse.”

Further examples from elsewhere include “Till the cows come home,” “Mad as a wet hen,” “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” “Proud as a peacock,” “The early bird gets the worm,” “Fly in the ointment” and “Like flies on a junebug.”

Also, “Blind as a bat,” “Grinning like a possum,” “Slick as eel (expletive),” “A snail’s pace,” “Like a goat eating briars,” “Turkey in the straw,” “Monkey see, monkey do” and “More fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

Others are “As full of (expletive) as a Christmas turkey,” “Wise as an owl,” “Happy as a lark,” “Strong as a bull/ox,” “Memory like an elephant,” “Blind as a bat” and “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” attributed to boxer Muhammad Ali.

Further, we have “I’ve got a tiger by the tail,” “Full as a tick,” “Crazy as a bedbug,” “Drunk as a skunk,” “Wolf in sheep’s clothing,” “Legal eagle,” “He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” “That gets my goat” and “Sly as a fox.”

And finally, “Poor as a church mouse,” “Ran like a scared rabbit,” “Busy as a beaver,” “I smell a rat,” “See you later, alligator,” “Like a fish out of water,” “As the crow flies” and “Naked as a jaybird.”

Keith Barnes is a Johnstonian News reporter. Email him at