This post – the last in our popular ‘animal idioms’ series – looks at idioms featuring animals that range in size from an elephant to a worm. Most of today’s idioms have a rather negative meaning.
Let’s start with the elephant idiom. If people know that a problem exists but they find it too embarrassing or difficult to talk about, the problem may be described as the elephant in the room:
We all know that Tom will have to retire at some point, but no one mentions it – it’s the elephant in the room.
The straw that breaks the camel’s back (or the final/last straw) is the last in a series of bad events that makes you unable to continue with a situation:
I’d been unhappy at work for a while but when Lauren left, well, that was the last straw.
She had endured a heavy workload for years but when they cut her pay, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In a family, the black sheep is a person that the other members disapprove of because they have done bad things in the past:
Daniel wasn’t welcome at gatherings – he was very much the black sheep of the family.
If you describe someone as being like a bear with a sore head, you mean they are in a bad mood and slightly angry with everyone:
I’d avoid David if I were you. He’s like a bear with a sore head this morning!
If something happens or moves at a snail’s pace, it happens or moves very slowly:
The economic recovery continues to proceed at a snail’s pace.
The traffic was so bad – we were moving at a snail’s pace.
The lion’s share of something is the largest part of it:
They continue to own the lion’s share of the smartphone market.
If you watch someone like a hawk, you watch them all the time, usually to make sure they don’t do something bad:
I was worried my three-year-old was going to snatch some food so I was watching her like a hawk.
A red herring is something that someone mistakenly focuses on, taking their attention away from the thing that they should be focusing on:
The police investigated a number of clues, but they all turned out to be red herrings.
Finally, a can of worms is a difficult subject or situation that is so complicated that you don’t want to deal with now:
There’s a gender imbalance in the company, but let’s not open that can of worms.