Rodents may not be the most popular creatures in the real world but they are definite VIPs in the world of common English expressions. Be they mice or rats (and lets be honest, there’s not much of a difference between the two), as the following examples prove, there are a lot of common English mouse idioms.
As quiet as a mouse – very quiet or introverted
- Don’t worry, I’ll be as quiet as a mouse when I leave tomorrow. You won’t hear a thing.
To play cat and mouse with someone – to tease or manipulate someone
* Oh that Judy can be such a monster. She pretends to love Raymond but really she’s just playing cat and mouse with his heart.
Note: This idiom relates to the idea that cats like to play with their food (and thereby draw out the suffering).
To rat out (someone) – to betray (someone)
- You can’t trust him! He would rat out his own mother!
Rat race – an expression used to describe a hectic lifestyle or situation
- After years of the rat race on Wall Street my brother retired to a quiet farm upstate.
Note: This idiom is meant to suggest the frantic pace that is characteristic of rats in a maze,
To smell a rat – to be suspicious of, or otherwise sense that, something is wrong
- I knew you couldn’t be trusted! I smelled a rat from the very beginning.
Note: This expression is very similar in meaning “to smell fishy” as both are related to their negative smell.
When the cat’s away, the mice will play – an expression used to describe a situation where unsupervised people cause problems
- Of course they caused problems while you were out of town – when the cat’s away the mice will play.
If you have any doubts about these or any other English idioms, be sure to scurry over to our idioms main page!
The Egyptians may have treated cats like gods but the English language has granted them a different kind of immortality: idiomatic. Indeed, our feline friends have inspired dozens of English cat idioms over the years and it can be confusing to keep them straight. Hopefully these explanations will help you with your practice.
Cat gets one`s tongue – to be unable to speak (often because of shyness)
- Mark really wanted to ask Amy to the movies but at the last minute the cat got his tongue and he could barely utter a word!
Note: This one can be hard to conjugate but it most frequently appears with the present perfect (“the cast has got his tongue”) when describing present actions.
A cat nap – a short, daytime sleep
- Whew, I’m exhausted! I need a cat nap before we head back out.
A copycat – an imitator
- Marsha is such a copycat! Every time I change my hairstyle she does the same thing within a week!
Curiosity killed the cat – used to describe (or warm someone about) a situation where too much curiousity caused big problems
- No I don’t think you should ask your boss whether or not she got Botox during her last vacation. Remember, curiousity killed the cat.
Note: This idiom is used more as a reminder than as an active part of a sentence.
To let the cat out of the bag – to expose a secret
- It was supposed to be a surprise party but Faith let the cat out of the bag and Tim knew all about it the day before.
To look like something the cat dragged in – to look worn out
- After three days of camping in the rain Sonia and Lou both looked like
Not enough room to swing a cat – cramped
- Despite the high price tag, Joan’s studio apartment was tiny. The location was great but there was not enough room to swing a cat.
To rain cats and dogs – to rain a lot
- Normally we don’t get a lot of rain but last week it rained cats and dogs.
Catch up on any idioms you may have missed by visiting our idioms homepage.
While we concentrated our efforts on the more positive expressions Mother Nature has inspired in our last installment, in this one we will turn our attention to a few of the negative ones. Here are a few examples of our favorites:
To Go Downhill
Although you might enjoy walking downhill – especially when you consider the opposite as the alternative! – when things go downhill they are generally deteriorating or otherwise worsening. English skills, for example, tend to go downhill without practice!
To Make a Mountain Out of a Molehill
The key to this idiom is to know what a molehill is – with that piece of information in mind this expression is actually pretty straightforward. That is because a molehill, the small pile of dirt created by mole while it digs, is rarely no larger than a watermelon (and nowhere near as large as a mountain). To make a mountain out of a molehill, then, is simply to blow things out of proportion or otherwise exaggerate your problems.
Once in a Blue Moon
Like the molehill, above, the meaning of this idiom revolves around the meaning of a piece of unusual vocabulary. The blue moon in question is the name given in English to phenomenon of having two full moons in a single calendar month – a rare occurrence that matches the meaning of the larger expression perfectly.
Over the Hill
The hill is a metaphor for life itself, with the top of the hill middle age and birth and death on either side. To be over the hill, then, is to have passed through both youth as well as middle age and headed towards the other end of life’s path.
Up the Creek
This idiom often appears in the three word form as above but also has a six word version that better explains its meaning: up the creek without a paddle. With that detail added – and the knowledge that a creek is a body of water – it should be pretty clear why this expression means “to be in trouble”.
Want more idioms inspired by geography? Check out other blog posts with an array of common idioms that will make you laugh!
In much the same way that what goes up must come down, for all of the positive animal idioms there are just as much negative ones. Because these downbeat expressions are used just as much as their more optimistic cousins, we thought we would take the time to review some of the most common examples:
As Blind As a Bat
Associations with Batman aside, bats in general are not well-regarded in general. In addition to their popular perception as cave-dwelling, day-sleeping, rats with wings, however, they are also famous for their poor eyesight – a characteristic that goes a long way to explaining the meaning of this idiom. To be “as blind as a bat” is to be quite blind indeed!
To understand this one-word idiom it is important to put the emphasis more on the “copy” than on the “cat” because a “copycat” is someone who imitates, emulates, or otherwise “copies” the habits of someone else. Continue reading “Dog Day: Negative Animal Idioms”
So far in our Idiom blog series we have discussed how all manner of things – from numbers and food to colors and even body parts – have left their impression, idiomatically, on the English language. It seems almost overdue, then, that animals finally take center stage. After all, there are almost as many idioms from animals in our language as there are on our planet! Indeed, with so many distinct creatures lending their names to so many idioms, we are going to concentrate, for now, only on those expressions with positive connotations. Here are a few of our favorites:
As Quiet As A Mouse
As mice are not known for their “big mouths,” it makes sense that when people are as quiet as a mouse they, too, are pretty subdued. What makes this expression a little more complicated is the fact that it is used to describe people who are not only move silently (like, say, ninjas) but also people who are reluctant to speak (that is, shy or timid) or just plain well-behaved. Continue reading “Every Dog Has Its Day: Positive Animal Idioms”