ahead of the pack

- to be more successful than other people who are doing the same thing as you (a pack is a group of animals like dogs or wolves who live together)

The girl studied hard all summer and was ahead of the pack when she returned to school in the autumn.

alley cat

- a stray cat

I began to feed the alley cat and now it comes to my house every day.

as awkward as a cow on roller skates

- very awkward

The little girl was as awkward as a cow on roller skates when she first began riding her bicycle.

as blind as a bat

- blind

The man is as blind as a bat and cannot see more than a small distance ahead.

as busy as a beaver

- very busy

I have been as busy as a beaver all morning trying to finish my work.

as clean as a hound’s tooth

- very clean

The classroom was as clean as a hound’s tooth when the students finished cleaning it.

as conceited as a barber’s cat

- very conceited, vain

My friend became as conceited as a barber’s cat after she won the award at school.

as crooked as a dog’s hind leg

- dishonest

The politician is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg and everybody dislikes him.

as drunk as a skunk

- very drunk

The man was as drunk as a skunk when he walked into the restaurant.

as fat as a pig

- very fat

The woman in the supermarket was as fat as a pig.

as gentle as a lamb

- very gentle

The girl is as gentle as a lamb when she is with her little sister.

as gruff as a bear

- gruff, unsociable

Our neighbor is as gruff as a bear when we meet him in the morning.

as hungry as a bear

- very hungry

I was as hungry as a bear when I arrived home from work.

as innocent as a lamb

- having no guilt, naive

The little girl is as innocent as a lamb and everybody loves her.

as meek as a lamb

- quiet, docile, meek

The secretary was as meek as a lamb when she went to ask her boss for a salary increase.

as nervous as a cat

- very nervous

The man was as nervous as a cat when he talked to the woman.

as poor as a church mouse

- very poor

My cousin is as poor as a church mouse and never has any money to spend.

as quiet as a mouse

- very quiet, shy

I was as quiet as a mouse when I left my house early this morning.

as scared as a rabbit

- very scared

I was as scared as a rabbit when I entered the empty room.

as sick as a dog

- very sick

My friend was as sick as a dog when he left the restaurant last night.

as sly as a fox

- smart and clever

The manager of our apartment is as sly as a fox.

as strong as a horse/lion/ox

- very strong

The man was as strong as an ox and easily helped us move the sofa.

as stubborn as a mule

- very stubborn

My friend is as stubborn as a mule and you can never make her change her mind.

as weak as a kitten

- weak, sickly

The girl is as weak as a kitten and cannot carry the pile of books.

as wild as a tiger

- very wild

The little boy was as wild as a tiger when we were trying to look after him.

back the wrong horse

- to support someone or something that cannot or does not win or succeed

We backed the wrong horse when we supported the new candidate for mayor.

badger (someone)

- to get someone to do something by repeated questions or by bothering them

I always have to badger my friend in order to make him return my computer games.

one’s bark is worse than one’s bite

- one’s words are worse than one’s actions

You should not worry about her. Her bark is worse than her bite and she is really a very nice person.

bark up the wrong tree

- to choose the wrong course of action, to ask the wrong person (a hunting dog may make a mistake when chasing an animal and bark up the wrong tree)

My boss is barking up the wrong tree. I did not cause the computer problem because I was away at the time.

the best-laid plans of mice and men

- the best thought-out plans that anyone can make

The best-laid plans of mice and men could not prevent the problems that we had with our travel plans.

bet on the wrong horse

- to misread the future, to not choose the winning person or solution

He is betting on the wrong horse if he supports the other city in their bid for the Olympic games.

the black sheep of the family

- the worst or the most unpopular/disliked member of a family

My cousin is the black sheep of the family and nobody likes to talk about him.

bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

- to be very cheerful and eager (like a squirrel with bright eyes and a bushy tail)

The children were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when they got up in the morning.

a bull in a china shop

- a tactless person who upsets others or upsets plans, a very clumsy person

The boy is like a bull in a china shop so you should be careful if you invite him to your house.

buy a pig in a poke

- to buy something without seeing it or knowing if it will be satisfactory

You can buy the used computer but it will be like buying a pig in a poke if you do not look at it first.

by shank’s mare

- by foot

I came to the meeting by shank’s mare.

call the dogs off

- to stop threatening/chasing/hounding someone

The police decided to call the dogs off and stop hunting for the man.

a cash cow

- a product or service that makes much money

Our new business is a cash cow. We are making a lot of money now.

cast pearls before swine

- to waste something on someone who will not be thankful or care about it

Giving the jewellery to the woman will be casting pearls before swine. She will not appreciate it at all.

cat gets one`s tongue

- one cannot speak because of shyness

The cat got the woman’s tongue and she could not say anything at all.

a cat nap

- a short sleep taken during the day

I had a cat nap in the afternoon so that I would feel refreshed in the evening.

a cat on a hot tin roof

- full of lively activity

The boy was jumping around like a cat on a hot tin roof and we could not make him be quiet.

champ/chomp at the bit

- to be ready and anxious to do something (a bit is put into a horse’s mouth for control of the horse)

Everyone was chomping at the bit to get started on their holiday.

change horses in midstream

- to make new plans or choose a new leader in an activity that has already begun

They have decided to change lawyers but I told them that they should not change horses in midstream.

a cock-and-bull story

- a silly story that is not true

Our neighbor gave us a cock-and-bull story about how our window was broken.

a copycat

- someone who copies another person`s work etc.

The boy is a copycat according to the other students in the class.

cry wolf

- to give a false alarm, to warn of a danger that is not there

The man is crying wolf. There is no danger that the electrical system will cause a fire.

curiosity killed the cat

- being too nosy may lead a person into trouble

“You should not worry about what your friend is doing. Remember, curiosity killed the cat.”

a dark horse

- a candidate who is little known to the general public

The candidate was a dark horse in the race to be the next mayor until he gave some good speeches on TV.

dog and pony show

- something that you disapprove of because you think that it has only been organized to impress you (like a dog and pony show in a circus)

We had serious questions about the project but we only got a dog and pony show when we asked for answers from our business partners.


- ready or willing to fight and hurt others to get what one wants

It is a dog-eat-dog world in our company.

dog in the manger

- someone who prevents others from doing what they themselves do not want to do (in Aesop’s Fables a dog that cannot eat hay lays in the hayrack and prevents the other animals from eating the hay)

My friend always acts like a dog in the manger and often tries to prevent us from enjoying ourselves.

donkey’s years

- a very long time

I talked to my friend for a long time because I had not seen her in donkey’s years.

a dumb bunny

- a stupid or gullible person

“He really is a dumb bunny. I cannot believe that he does such stupid things.”

eager beaver

- a person who is always eager to work or do something extra

The woman is an eager beaver and I am sure that she will do very well in this company.

eat high on/off the hog

- to eat good or expensive food

We were eating high off the hog during our ocean cruise.

eat like a horse

- to eat a lot

My brother eats like a horse.

every dog has his day

- everyone will have his chance or turn, everyone will get what he deserves

“Don`t worry about him. Every dog has his day and he will eventually suffer for all the bad things that he is doing.”

ferret (information or something) out of (someone)

- to get something from someone by being persistent

I worked hard to ferret the time and place of the party out of my friend.

fight like cats and dogs

- to argue and fight with someone (usually used for people who know each other)

The two children were fighting like cats and dogs when we entered the room.

flog/beat a dead horse

- to continue fighting a battle that has been won, to continue to argue a point that has been settled

My friend was flogging a dead horse when she would not stop arguing about the mistake on her paycheck.

a fraidy-cat

- someone who is easily frightened (usually used by children)

The little boy called his friend a fraidy-cat because his friend would not climb the tree.

get (someone`s) goat

- to annoy someone

My friend is always complaining about the way that I do things which gets my goat.

get off one`s high horse

- to begin to be humble and agreeable

I wish that she would get off her high horse and begin to think about how other people feel about things.

get on one`s high horse

- to behave with arrogance

My friend is always getting on her high horse and telling people what to do.

go ape (over someone or something)

- to become highly excited or angry about someone or something

Our teacher will go ape if he sees that you have not finished the work that was due today.

go hog-wild

- to behave wildly

The young soccer fans went hog-wild when they arrived in the city for the game.

go to the dogs

- to deteriorate, to become bad

Many things in our city have gone to the dogs during the last ten years.

go whole hog

- to do everything possible, to be extravagant

We went whole hog in our effort to make sure that the convention was a success.

the hair of the dog that bit one

- a drink of alcohol that one takes when recovering from a hangover

The man woke up and had the hair of the dog that bit him before he ate breakfast.

have a cow

- to become very angry and upset about something

Our teacher had a cow when he discovered that nobody had prepared for the class.

have a whale of a time

- to have an exciting and interesting time

We had a whale of a time at the party last night.

have bats in one’s belfry

- to be a little bit crazy

I think that our neighbor has bats in her belfry.

hit the bulls-eye

- to reach the main point of something

I think that our manager hit the bulls-eye when he talked about the real problems in the company.

hold one`s horses

- to wait, to be patient

“Hold your horses for a moment while I make a phone call.”

Holy cow

- used to express strong feelings of astonishment/pleasure/anger

“Holy cow,” the man said when he saw the car that had hit the street lamp.

hoof it

- to walk or run (a hoof is the foot of a horse/sheep/cow etc.)

I decided to hoof it when I came downtown this morning.

horse around

- to play around (in a rough way)

The teacher told the children not to horse around while they were getting ready for class.

a horse of a different color

- something totally separate and different

Changing locations is a horse of a different color. It was never mentioned in any of our meetings.

horse sense

- common sense, practical thinking

The boy does not have much horse sense and sometimes he makes the wrong decision.

horse trade

- to bargain in a hard and skillful way

We had to do some horse trading but finally we reached a deal to buy the new house.

to hound (someone)

- to pursue/chase someone, to harass someone

The manager is always hounding the younger members of her staff to make sure that they work hard.

in a pig`s eye

- unlikely, not so, never

In a pig`s eye will my friend be able to save enough money to go to Mexico for the winter.

in the doghouse

- in disgrace or disfavor, in trouble

The man is in the doghouse with his wife because he came home late last night.

in two shakes of a lamb’s tail

- very quickly

I promised that I would meet my friend in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

kangaroo court

- an illegal court formed by a group of people to settle a dispute among themselves

The military court in the small country was like a kangaroo court that permitted the military to do whatever they wanted.

keep the wolf from the door

- to maintain oneself at the most basic level

My friend’s part-time job is enough for him to keep the wolf from the door.

kill the fatted calf

- to prepare an elaborate banquet for someone

We decided to kill the fatted calf and have a big feast for my parents.

lead a dog`s life

- to lead a miserable life

The man is leading a dog`s life since he married the woman who everyone told him not to.

a leopard can’t change its spots

- you cannot change someone’s basic human nature or bad qualities

The manager wrote a letter of apology to the customer but a leopard can’t change its spots and I do not believe that the manager has changed and the letter does not mean anything.

let sleeping dogs lie

- to not make trouble if you do not have to

You should let sleeping dogs lie and not ask our boss any questions about the dispute.

let the cat out of the bag

- to tell something that is supposed to be a secret

The teacher let the cat out of the bag when she began talking about the plans for the new school.

like a bat out of hell

- with great speed and force

I ran like a bat out of hell to get the bus.

like a deer caught in the headlights

- like someone who is very confused and does not know what to do

The boy looked like a deer caught in the headlights when we discovered him in the room that was supposed to be locked.

like lambs to the slaughter

- quietly and without complaining about the dangers that may lie ahead

Our football team went like lambs to the slaughter to meet the best football team in the country.

lion’s share of (something)

- the larger part/share of something

We found the lion’s share of the lost tickets but some are still missing.

live high on/off the hog

- to have the best of everything

My friend has been living high on the hog since he changed jobs.

loaded for bear

- very angry

The man was loaded for bear when he went in to see the supervisor.

lock horns with (someone)

- to get into an argument with someone

I locked horns with my neighbor yesterday morning.

lock the barn door after the horse is gone

- to try to deal with something after it is too late

Now my friend wants to fix his house but it is like locking the barn door after the horse is gone. There was a flood and the damage is already done.

a lone wolf

- someone who prefers to spend time alone and has few friends

The boy was a lone wolf and spent most of his time alone.

look a gift horse in the mouth

- to complain if a gift is not perfect

The girl should not look a gift horse in the mouth and should be happy that she received a present from her friends.

look like something the cat dragged in

- to look tired/worn out/dirty

I was very tired and I am sure that I looked like something the cat dragged in.

look like the cat that swallowed/ate the canary

- to look smug and self-satisfied, to look as if you have just had a great success

“You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. What happened?”

make a monkey out of (someone)

- to make someone look foolish

My friend made a monkey out of me when he started arguing with me in front of my boss.

make a mountain out of a molehill

- to make something that is unimportant seem important

You are making a mountain out of a molehill when you talk about the mistake.

make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

- to create something of value from something of no value

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and there is no point in trying to teach the woman manners.

monkey around with (someone or something)

- to play with or waste time with someone or something

The father and son spent the morning monkeying around with the old radio.

monkey business

- unethical or illegal activity, mischief

The boy should stop the monkey business and try to do the job the correct way.

a monkey on one’s back

- a serious problem that stops someone from being successful at something

The time without scoring a goal was a monkey on the back of the famous soccer player.

monkey see, monkey do

- someone copies something that someone else does

It is always monkey see, monkey do for the boy. He copies everything that his friend does.

more fun than a barrel of monkeys

- very funny, fun

The children love the man because he is more fun than a barrel of monkeys and makes everybody laugh.

not enough room to swing a cat

- not very much space

There was not enough room to swing a cat in the small apartment.

on horseback

- on the back of a horse

We rode out to the old red barn on horseback.

a paper tiger

- a person or organization that is supposed to have a lot of power but actually is very weak

The manager was a paper tiger and did not really have any power in the company.

piggy bank

- a small bank (sometimes in the shape of a pig) for saving money

The boy has been putting money into his piggy bank to save for a bicycle.


- sitting or being carried on someone`s back and shoulders

The boy was riding piggyback on his father`s shoulders.

play cat and mouse with (someone)

- to tease or fool someone, to change between different types of behavior when dealing with someone

The man is playing cat and mouse with his company about his plans to quit or not.

play possum

- to pretend to be inactive/asleep/dead

I think that the man is playing possum and is not really sleeping.

put on the dog

- to dress or entertain in a luxurious and extravagant manner

We put on the dog for my parents when they came to visit us.

put (someone or something) out to pasture

- to retire someone or something (just as you would put a horse that is too old to work out to pasture)

We finally decided to put our old car out to pasture and buy a new one.

put the cart before the horse

- to do things in the wrong order

I think that buying a ticket before we make our holiday plans is putting the cart before the horse.

put the cat among the pigeons

- to cause trouble

Sending the bad supervisor to talk to the angry workers was like putting the cat among the pigeons.

rain cats and dogs

- to rain very hard

It has been raining cats and dogs all day.

rat on (someone)

- to report someone’s bad behavior to someone

The little boy ratted on his friend at school.

rat out on (someone)

- to desert or betray someone

The boy ratted out on his friends and now they won`t talk to him.

rat race

- a rushed and confusing way of living that does not seem to have a purpose

My uncle is tired of being in the rat race every day and he plans to quit his job soon and do something else.

ride herd on (someone)

- to watch closely and strictly supervise someone (as a cowboy would supervise a herd of cattle)

The manager has been riding herd on his employees so that he can get the job done quickly.

a road hog

- a car driver who uses more than his share of the road

The person in front of me on the highway was a road hog but I tried not to get angry.

rub (someone/someone’s fur) the wrong way

- to irritate someone (just as you would irritate a dog or cat if you rub their fur the wrong way)

The woman who I work with rubs me the wrong way when I speak to her.

a sacred cow

- a person or thing that is never criticized or changed even if it should be (from a cow which is sacred in India)

The school lunch program is a sacred cow which they will never change.

a scaredy-cat

- someone who is easily frightened (usually used by children)

The children called their friend a scaredy-cat because she would not go into the empty house.

see a man about a dog

- to leave for some unmentioned purpose (often to go to the washroom)

I left the table in the restaurant to go and see a man about a dog.

separate the sheep from the goats

- to divide people into two groups

We had to separate the sheep from the goats when we began to make selections for the school choir.

serve as a guinea pig

- to allow some kind of test to be performed on someone

I was not happy that I had to act as a guinea pig for the managers who were testing the new training material.

a shaggy dog story

- a long and often pointless story that is told as a joke and often ends in a very silly or unexpected way

My friend told me a shaggy dog story about how he lost his bicycle.

smell a rat

- to be suspicious, to feel that something is wrong

I smell a rat. There is something wrong with the offer of a free credit card.

squirrel (something) away

- to hide or store something

My niece likes to squirrel away as much money as possible from her part-time job.

straight from the horse`s mouth

- directly from the person who said something, directly from a dependable source

I heard it straight from the horse`s mouth that our supervisor will be leaving the company next week.

the straw that broke the camel`s back

- a small final trouble or problem which follows other troubles and causes everything to collapse or something to happen

The supervisor accusing me of not working hard enough was the straw that broke the camel`s back and I asked for a transfer to another section of the company.

one’s tail between one`s legs

- feeling beaten or humiliated (like a frightened or defeated dog as it walks away)

The man left the meeting with his tail between his legs after he was criticized by the company president.

the tail wagging the dog

- a situation where a small part controls the whole thing

When the small group of managers began to run the large company, it was like the tail wagging the dog.

take the bull by the horns

- to take decisive and direct action

My aunt decided to take the bull by the horns and begin preparations for the family reunion.

there is more than one way to skin a cat

- there is more than one way to do something

I knew that there was more than one way to skin a cat so I did not worry about the rules and time limit of my project.

throw (someone) to the lions

- to permit someone to be blamed or criticized for something without trying to help or protect him or her

The company threw the manager to the lions and made him take responsibility for the problem that he had caused.

throw (someone) to the wolves

- to send someone into danger without protection, to sacrifice someone

The salesman decided to throw his co-worker to the wolves when he asked him to meet the angry customer.

top dog

- the most important person in an organization

My uncle is the top dog in his company.

turn tail

- to run away from trouble or danger

We decided to turn tail and leave the restaurant before there was an argument.

until the cows come home

- until very late, for a long time

We can talk until the cows come home this weekend.

weasel out of (something)

- to get out of something or not have to do something (like a weasel which can move through small openings)

My friend was able to weasel out of going to the store for his mother.

when the cat’s away, the mice will play

- when you are not watching someone they may get into trouble

When the cat’s away, the mice will play and when the teacher left the classroom the students began to move around.

a white elephant

- something that is not useful and costs a lot of money to maintain

The airport was a white elephant and nobody liked to use it.

wild horses could not drag (someone away)

- there is nothing that will force someone to go somewhere or do something

Wild horses could not drag me away from my favorite TV show last night.

a wildcat strike

- a strike spontaneously arranged by a group of workers

There was a wildcat strike at the factory and over 100 people stopped work.

wolf down (something)

- to gulp down something, to eat something quickly

I wolfed down my dinner and left the house for the movie.

a wolf in sheep`s clothing

- a person who pretends to be good but really is bad

“Be careful of that man. He is a wolf in sheep`s clothing.”

work like a horse

- to work very hard

My grandfather worked like a horse when he was a young man.

you can lead a horse to water (but you can’t make it drink)

- you can give someone the opportunity to do something but you cannot force him or her to do it if they do not want to

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink and no matter how hard we try to help my cousin get a job he will not make any effort when we introduce him to someone who knows about a job.

you can’t teach an old dog new tricks

- it is difficult for older people to learn new things

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks and I don’t think that my father will ever change his eating habits.

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