Animals are a big part of life on Earth and, since the beginning of times, it has been reflected in language. From cave paintings to modern English, people have included animals in phrases, expressions and idioms. Let’s take a look at some!
To kill two birds with one stone
If you achieve two things by doing a single action, you have killed two birds with one stone. Some believe the expression comes from hunting, others think it derives from “to stop two gaps with one bush,” but the most surprising origin is a Greek myth.
It is believed that the expression comes from the story of Daedalus and Icarus in the Labyrinth of Crete. Daedalus, an architect and craftsman, created from stone the feathers of two birds (eagle and seagull) to create wings and escape with Icarus. Although this theory is quite lyrical and metaphorical, it has not been proven and does not fit exactly with the meaning of the expression nowadays.
You can use “holy cow!” to express astonishment in an innocent and pure way. Holy cow is what we know as a “minced oath”, aka substituting a taboo word with a similar sounding euphemism. Cow may be the substitute of “Christ” and it was used during baseball and broadcasting.
We have to take into account that cows are notoriously important in hinduism, they are sacred. In the late 19th century, Westerners were already aware of Hinduism, but we cannot go as far as saying they started using “holy cow” to reference hindu culture. What a coincidence, huh?
Straight from the horse’s mouth
Straight from the horse’s mouth means directly from the original source; most accurate source of information. This expression comes from someone who has come directly from examining the horse to relay information about its age and condition.
While the origin story is not as curious as others, it is fascinating the amount of expressions related to horses, such as “long in the tooth” (as horses grow older, their teeth grow) or “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” (you could see the age and state of horses through their teeth).
The birds and the bees
The birds and the bees are an euphemism to refer to sex. These little animals were used in sex education to explain intercourse. It is said that it comes from the 1825 “Work Without Hope” collection by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
All nature seems at work . . . The bees are stirring–birds are on the wing . . . and I the while, the sole unbusy thing, not honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
So basic sex ed comes from a poet complaining about animals having more sex than him.
It’s raining cats and dogs
If you live in the UK or any place where it rains heavily, you might be familiar with the expression. What does it have to do with cats and dogs? We are not very sure. There are four main possible origins for this curious expression:
- According to Norse mythology, Odin (who was the god of storms) was accompanied by dogs and werewolves, the symbol of wind. Witches rode their brooms through storms and had black cats with them. Cats then became a sign of heavy rain for sailors.
- It comes from the Greek “cata doxa”, which means “contrary to experience or belief”. It refers to when it rains unusually hard or an unbelievable amount.
- It may come from the word catadupe. Catadupe means a cataract or waterfall in English. So, to say it’s raining “cats and dogs” might be to say it’s raining waterfalls.
- The most bizarre origin comes from the idea that cats and dogs would cuddle into thatch roofs and be washed out during heavy rains (so cats and dogs would “fall from the sky”). However, it is nonsensical that animals would seek shelter outside while it poured.
Which one do you think is the most probable? Let us know in the comments!
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