The way we use animal names is the elephant in the room.

Elephants. They probably aren’t.

WE are unfair to animals.

And no, I’m not going to lecture about the way some people treat their pets or about coursing or any of that.

I mean in the way we borrow them to describe human activity.

Like: “Yer man was elephants last night,” meaning, of course, that he was drunk. As a skunk.


Personally, I have never seen an elephant, a skunk or a rat the worse for wear after a few jars. In fact, I’ve never even seen any of the three in a pub.

We talk about people horsing down their food. People having a dog in the manger attitude to life. Things being dog rough, dog-eared a dog’s dinner – none of them complimentary even though we love dogs.

People rabbit on if their talk too much. If they’re sneaky, we say they’re a snake in the grass. or maybe even a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they might even have weasel ways.

An unpleasant female might be described as a cow or even a bitch.

If we don’t care, we couldn’t give a monkey’s. And a child can be a cheeky monkey.

Over eat and you’re making a pig of yourself.

If we copy something we’re aping it. Look around for something and we’re ferreting.

A stupid person might be called bird-brained. Or maybe even an ass. Or a donkey.

They might even be as stubborn as a mule.

A bit eccentric means they’re bats or bat-shit crazy.

Working hard is beavering away. You might even be as busy as a bee.

People are pigeon-toed, they laugh like a hyena, the waddle like a duck or parrot what someone else has said. We don’t like playing poker with a card shark.

If you change your mind you’re a leopard changing its spots.

If you’re a bit hoarse, you’ve got a frog in your throat. If you annoy someone, you’re getting their goat. If things have gone badly for you, you’re goosed. You might get the hump – and we know where that comes from.

If we hide stuff away, we’re squirrelling. We can be eagle-eyed or watching like a hawk. If we’re greedy, we’re called vultures, we wear turtle-necked jumpers. Well, some people do. Probably the same people who have mullet hair styles. We travel at snail’s pace. And if we go slowly, we’re slugs.

Overdo the sunbathing and you’re a lobster. At the same time, if you’re in bad form, you might be crabby.

Hoard things, you’re a magpie. Stay silent, and you’re as quiet as a mouse.

If you’re a coward, you’re chicken.

Then again, if you’ve having fun you’re having a whale of a time. But if you don’t fit in you’re a fish out of water.

I haven’t even mentioned bullshit until now!

And if something is dreadful, we might describe it as being cat.

Well, that’s fair enough. Not a big cat fan.

Lemmings was always a word for those little animals from northern Europe whose name has become a byword for people who blindly follow others even if it’s to annihilation.

But animals don’t use it.

They have another word they use for animals which self-destruct.


Look around…

…they’re not wrong.


2 thoughts on “The way we use animal names is the elephant in the room.

  1. gerryfloyd

    Elephants get drunk. On a wildlife programme some years ago it showed them stripping a orchard of apples. The apples turned to alcohol in their stomachs.


  2. Brendan Martin

    You’ve never seen an elephant in a pub? Bet there was one in the room though.


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