Black sheep and cans of worms: animal idioms, part 4

pkanchana / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Kate Woodford

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.

17 thoughts on “Black sheep and cans of worms: animal idioms, part 4

  1. Maryem Salama

    When we want to say that someone is in a bad mood, we idiomatically say he or she looks surrounded by black hens. I suggest not to speak with the boss now as he seems surrounded by the black hens. You have picked up very expressive idioms. Thank you, dear Kate.

Leave a Reply to Subhash shamrao kapure Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.