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Animal idioms
Eva from Italy writes:
  In the sentences:

On the BBC home page, I found the expression a fly-on-the-wall series, the first reality TV programme. What does fly-on-the-wall mean?

Thank you in advance for your kind answer.

 
 
Roger Woodham replies:
 
 
 
fly-on-the-wall (adj)
 
By using concealed cameras, fly-on-the-wall television programmes or films show people doing what they normally do every day. Big Brother is a good example of this type of reality TV programme. We use the expression fly-on-the-wall because if a fly settles on your wall at home, you do not normally notice it. Note that fly on the wall is also used as a compound noun:
 
I'd like to have been a fly on the wall when your boss heard he'd been fired.
 
 
We use many animal idioms in English. Here are a selection of those involving both larger and smaller animals. How many of these do you know? Explanations provided beneath examples of use where meaning is not so obvious.

LARGER MAMMALS
 
a bull / bear market
take the bull by the horns
do the donkey work
flog a dead horse
the lion's share
a stag night

The bull market of the Eighties and Nineties is unlikely to return for some time.
I decided to take the bull by the horns and tell him he was upsetting Jane.
If you tell him to take it easy, he'll sit back and let you do all the donkey work.
Invest in shares and the chances are you'll be flogging a dead horse.
The lion's share of her money - over 80% - went to her nephews and nieces.
I'm having my stag night on the same day as my Sue is having her hen night.


bull market: situation where price of shares on the stock market are rising (bear market: prices falling) take the bull by the horns: face up to problem instead of avoiding it donkey work: manual labour or jobs that are routine or least important flog a dead horse: waste time on something unlikely to be successful (flog = whip) a stag night: a social/drinking evening for groom's male friends prior to wedding (hen night = social/drinking evening for bride's female friends)
 
SMALLER MAMMALS
 
keep the wolf from the door
dog tired
let sleeping dogs lie

let the cat out of the bag
cat nap smell a rat

If you can't get a better job, you won't be able to keep the wolf from the door.
He was dog tired - out on call all night and then took surgery in the morning.
She doesn't need to know he's been unfaithful. Let sleeping dogs lie.
He couldn't keep it secret, let the cat out of the bag and told her everything.
I like to cat nap for half an hour after lunch.
They intended to trick him but they were always larking about and he smelt a rat .

keep the wolf from the door: earn enough to buy food and other essentials
let sleeping dogs lie: not interfere; not mention something that could cause trouble
let the cat out of the bag: reveal a secret
smell a rat: sense that something is wrong (lark about: behave in playful, childish way)
 
BIRDS and FISH
 
a wild goose chase
up with the lark
chicken out
a fish out of water
a cold fish
have other fish to fry

I didn't know her flight number so trying to find Amy at Heathrow was a bit of a wild goose chase.
We'll have to be up with the lark tomorrow - the flight leaves at seven thirty.
They are short of funds so I think they're going to chicken out of this project.
I didn't know anyone at the reception so felt like a fish out of water.
He showed no emotion at this aunt's funeral - he's s cold sort of fish.
They wanted me to join them on this project but I told them I had other fish to fry.


a wild goose chase: a search that has no chance of success
chicken out: stop participating in something which is too dangerous or difficult.
have other fish to fry: have other things to do or more important matters to attend to.
 
INSECTS
 
a fly in the ointment
not hurt a fly
no flies on someone
a busy bee
have a bee in your bonnet
the bee's knees
It will be an exciting trip.

The only fly in the ointment is that Sue can't drive.
He has an awful temper but he wouldn't hurt a fly.
There are no flies on Jacob - he is fully aware of all aspects of the operation.
She's a busy bee all right - if there's a job to do, she just has to get on with it.
She's got a bee in her bonnet about eating raw fish to stay fit and healthy.
With her first class honours degree and job with the UN, she thinks she's the bee' knees.


a fly in the ointment: a difficulty which prevents total enjoyment
no flies on someone: said of someone who is alert and clever, not easy to deceive
have a bee in your bonnet: be obsessed with something (bonnet = hat)
the bee's knees: someone who thinks they are very clever and important
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
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