Vegan Idioms – What the Cluck?

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?

Related: Why Vegan?

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?

Vegan Idioms - What the Cluck?

(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.”

Happy pig
Photo by Alexandra Novitskaya on Pexels

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.

jules kae skyla bag
Jules Kae vegan Skyla Bag

Holy Cow!

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 😉 )

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels

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?

Photo by 尾 賀 on Pexels

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 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Vegan Idioms – What the Cluck?”

  1. I am completely with you, Christine. As fierce as you are for animal rights (and justified) I am sensible for sexist language. Don’t get me started about the use of ‘guys’, ‘chicos’, ‘hombre’, ‘man’, or to stay in our mother tongue ‘jongens’. I can’t count the number of times I have been in a discussion with people about the fact those terms are only justified in an all-male company and should not be used for girls.

    So you are quite right that language has an impact. I know I have used the term ‘killing 2 birds with 1 stone’ somewhere in my articles and you have inspired me to change that. 🙂

    • Hi Hannie,

      I couldn’t agree more! In the Spanish language, when you have a group of 100 women you say “chicas”, but if it’s a group of 100 women and 1 man, it becomes “chicos”. I’ve always found that sexist and I hope that the language changes there too. I absolutely understand what you mean.

  2. Hi Christine, What a wonderful post!
    Thank you it put a smile on your face reading the originality of the idioms.
    How about a leaflet with them all?
    Enjoyed reading and waiting for more …..

  3. Mind opening! Never really cared to think about some of the language we use towards animal. Like the rest of the world just thought it is normal and that animals don’t mind, care or understand us but I suppose if pets understand us then it is also valid for the rest of animal. I’m not a vegan – but I do believe we should treat animal with respect, kindness and gratefulness.

    • Hi Kedia,

      Indeed, if pets can understand us, it is also valid for the rest of animals. Pigs, for example, have a high intelligence and are smarter than dogs. Cows form a deep bond with their calves.
      Thank you for your comment!

  4. I’ve never really given thought to the phrases that above. They’ve been around so long, that like you said, we don’t give much thought to them. Some phrases don’t bother me as much as other’s, I will say. The one that refers to skinning a cat is terrible and honestly, even if I had heard that over and over, there’s no way I could ever repeat that without goosebumps or cringing.
    But you’re right. Using these phrases does imply that we are superior. I was watching a new documentary on Netflix last night, Ep 1 was about the origins that humans are superior because animals can’t communicate in a sense we can understand.

    I enjoyed the episode immensely, and even thought it was cool that salmon use the magnetic poles to be able to find their spawning grounds every year. We can’t do that. There’s a species of bird that stashes away it’s food source for the winter in over 6,000 places, and goes back to every location and eats it’s food. Then, here, as a supposedly “superior” species, we can’t remember what we had for dinner last night.

    I’ve never thought that humans were better than any other species on our planet, even as a kid. I find that some animals, are clearly more smart than we are and have a better understanding of the world they live in. We however, love to destroy and devour to our own use. Killing the planet faster than ever.

    No, humans are no better than any of form of life. Our communication lacks in so many ways versus other animals like dolphins and whales, or even insects. It’s amazing what insects can do and imagine if they were our size. We would be the inferior without a doubt.

    Great article! Thanks for sharing!


    • Hi Katrina,

      I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t know about the salmon that use magnetic poles to find their spawning grounds, that is pretty amazing! And the bird species that stashes its food in 6000 locations … wow, I want to find out more about that.
      I live in the middle of nowhere and living out here I learn a lot about insects too. Wasps, for example, are very smart. They have already figured out that I don’t harm them and I always rescue them from the water bowls, so the wasps here do not harm me. Of course, I can’t get too close to their hives, but they leave me alone, even their next and next generations, it’s like a hive intelligence, or an inherited trust, who knows, but it amazes me!

  5. Hi Christine,

    I never thought that the animal-related words we are using have discriminations, and the concept is like a hit on my forehead, making me care more for the words I say, which is a good thing. From the vegan idioms, I love “Madder than an internet troll” the most. It is so funny that I laughed out loud when I read it. 🙂



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