Happy bunny or bunny boiler?

Nov 9, 2012 | Language

Today we have been mostly thinking about animal idioms. This all came about because Project Manager Anikó had never heard the phrase not a happy bunny, which initially got us into a discussion on the positive usage of the phrase. Are you ever a happy bunny? Well, Anikó is!

So, what other animals make it into our everyday language of idioms? Well, as I have discovered today, there are hundreds! Some are pretty descriptive and obvious, such as eyes like a hawk, fish out of water, bear with a sore head. But sometimes others need a bit more thinking (and blogging!) about.

What about your chickens will come home to roost? The meaning is fairly clear – that your bad deeds or, more specifically, curses, will always return to haunt you, in the same way as birds will always return to their nests. It’s been around a long time as well – Geoffrey Chaucer himself expressed it in print as early as 1390 in The Parson’s Tale:

And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.

The bird seems to have turned into a chicken by the 19th century, first used in print as a motto on the title page of Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, 1810:

Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost.

Another bird used in a similar context is the albatross, hanging around the neck of the Ancient Mariner:

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Of course, animals in idioms are popular across the world. The Dutch use the phrase Ijsberen to represent pacing up and down – literally to polar bear. The French have other cats to whipj’ai d’autres chats à fouetter ! and the Japanese knowingly exclaim 猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru) – even monkeys fall from trees.

Possibly one of the most obscure I’ve come across is the Cheyenne Mónésó’táhoenôtse kosa?, which translates to Are you still riding the goat? None the wiser? The question, believe it or not, is: are you still separated from your spouse?! I hope it’s not rude…

What’s your favourite animal-based idiom? The more obscure the better!

image: © Jinyoung Lee | Dreamstime.com
sources: www.omniglot.com, www.phrases.org.uk