All idioms have history. The English language can thank Shakespeare for many expressions such as “break the ice“, “foul play“, “going on a wild goose chase“, and there’s a long list of more. “It’s raining cats and dogs” also has an interesting history which I will explain in this article as well, but what the cluck’s up with those vegan idioms? Why are they created and who is using them?
I’m going to claim credit for “what the cluck” because I came up with that one for this article, but it’s an easy one to create, so who knows if others have used this in their blog posts?
(Note: if you want to skip the explanation and see the animal-friendly idioms, please scroll down)
Why Change Idioms to More Animal-Friendly Versions?
In 2018, Peta released a list of animal-friendly idioms, claiming that language can perpetuate speciesism as much as it has spread homophobia, racism, and sexism.
They’re not wrong. There are a lot of expressions our grandparents may have said without a second thought which we now consider offensive. We haven’t given animals the same consideration, though.
The problem is that although most people understand why some descriptions or expressions may be considered racist, homophobic, or sexist nowadays, it may be harder to understand the same thing about animals. Most of us may not see it that way since we placed animals on the “lower” bottom of the hierarchy which we teach in schools and accept as “facts”.
Besides, it’s not as if a pig is going to ram you in rage when you say that you “bring home the bacon.” Nonetheless, just because they don’t speak our language – or in other words, we don’t make an effort to understand them – doesn’t mean that derivative remarks about them are “acceptable.”
The inferior denomination of the animal species is part of the reason why there is so much animal suffering in the world. If idioms condone cruelty to animals, then why not in real life? Language matters and I think that skeptics will have to put themselves in someone else’s shoes – or rather paws or claws – before passing judgment on “another one of Peta’s madnesses”.
I do not promote PETA and I am no fan of them (due to a personal experience with them), but they are an essential part of the fight for animal rights, and we need their activism. Their list of companies that do not test on animals or use animal ingredients is always up to date and can be consulted with the confidence that you’re getting the right information to make cruelty-free purchases.
Some of the animal-friendly idioms are:
Bigger fish to fry –> Bigger fish to free
Act like an animal –> Act like an ogre
Kill two birds with one stone –> Feed two birds with one scone (I like this one 🙂 )
Like a chicken with its head cut off –> Like your hair is on fire
Let the cat out of the bag –> Spill the beans
Look like the cat who swallowed the canary –> Look as guilty as sin
Madder than a wet hen –> Madder than an internet troll (haha, good one!)
More than one way to skin a cat (Ew! and Ouch!) –> More than one way to peel an orange
Be the guinea pig –> Be the test tube
Milk it for all it’s worth –> Juice it for all it’s worth
Bee in your bonnet –> Thorn in your side
Beat a dead horse –> Feed a fed horse
Birdbrain –> Peabrain
Blind as a bat –> Blind as the eyes on a potato (that reminds me of Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story 😉 )
Bring home the bacon –> Bring home the bagels (this one is my favorite)
Bull in a china shop –> Tornado in a glass factory
Curiosity killed the cat –> Mind your own business (Yes, very direct! I love it)
Dirty rat –> Dirty rascal
Dog-eat-dog world –> Cut-throat world
Have a dog in this fight –> have a stake in this game
Hold your horses –> Cool your jets
Not my first rodeo –> Not my first roadshow
Fox guarding the hen house –> Vampire guarding the blood bank
Packed in like sardines –> Packed in like pickles
Open a can of worms –> Open Pandora’s Box (Oh, I love this one, it’s much more telling and ominous than the original one!)
Raining Cats and Dogs?
Before we come to the end of this article, as promised, I’ll quickly explain the origin of this idiom. If you know this already, you can skip this paragraph.
This phrase comes from Tudor times. Poor people had to keep their dogs and cats inside. Their houses usually had thatched roofs and their animals would be left on the rafters to sleep – it was also warm there. If there was heavy rain, the water would leak through the thatched roof and the animals would come sliding down or simply look for the safety of the ground. Hence, the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” 😉
Don’t Count Your Chips Before they’re Cashed
There are many more animal-friendly idioms, but I listed just some of them. To see the full list, you can check them here on PETA.
Some Last Paws
What do you think of these idioms? Do you have one or more favorites? Do you agree that we should adapt our language to avoid offending not only humans but also animals, not because they can’t understand it but because of how these idioms demonstrate their “inferior” status? Even in a joke, anything that is implied as subservient or below you makes abuse or violence towards other species more acceptable.
I’ve lost count of how often I’ve had to explain to my junior high school students that certain words are offensive or demeaning, even if they “don’t mean it” or it’s “just a joke” or “we’re among friends”. If we all understand how important those lessons are to children, then perhaps we can apply the same lessons to us (and our children) with regard to animals.
So, before telling PETA that we’ve got other fish to free, let’s not pull the polyester over our eyes, but think why I am taking the flower by the thorns and addressing our use of language.
I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below 🙂