This week we return to animal idioms, starting with the humble – and often irritating! – fly. Though small in size, the fly appears in a surprisingly large number of common idioms. To describe someone who is very gentle and who never offends or hurts others, you might say they wouldn’t hurt a fly:
I don’t believe Molly did that. She wouldn’t hurt a fly!
If a lot of people are getting ill or dying at the same time, you might say informally they are dropping like flies:
I’ve never seen an outbreak of flu like this one. People are dropping like flies!
If you would like to witness what people say or do in a particular situation without being seen, you might say you would love to be a fly on the wall:
Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when Lucy tells Emily her news?
It’s a beautiful house. The only fly in the ointment is that the dishwasher is broken and leaks water everywhere.
Fish also are used in quite a few idioms. Someone who feels uncomfortable in a situation that they are not used to may be described as a fish out of water:
I had nothing in common with these people. I felt like a fish out of water.
People sometimes try to comfort a person whose relationship has recently ended by saying there are plenty more fish in the sea (UK)/there are plenty of fish in the sea (US), meaning that there are many more people with whom they might have a relationship:
You may not want to hear this now but, you know, there are plenty more fish in the sea.
If someone chooses not to do a particular thing because they have something more important to do instead, you might say they have bigger/other fish to fry:
James turned down our job offer. I suspect he has bigger fish to fry.
Meanwhile, a person who has a lot of power and influence over a small area of activity may be described as a big fish in a small pond:
Luke could move on to bigger things but I think he prefers to be a big fish in a small pond.
The male cow – the bull – also features in two fairly common idioms. If you start to deal with something difficult in a brave and determined way, you may be said to take the bull by the horns:
I thought it was time to take the bull by the horns so I told him his actions were unacceptable.
Someone who approaches a situation with great energy and enthusiasm but does not seem to care about what their actions will do is sometimes said to be like a bull in a china shop:
She went into the meeting like a bull in a china shop, upsetting both Tom and Maria.
Next month we’ll be looking at frequent bird and pig idioms, amongst others.