Learn Animal Idioms in this collaboration with JenniferESL. This compilation video has all the animal idioms you could want: chicken, pecking order, chicken out, flew the coop, run around like a chicken with its head cut off, high horse, stop horsing around, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, hoofing it, straight from the horse’s mouth, making hay, charlie horse, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse, don’t beat a dead horse, don’t put the cart before the horse, a horse of a different color, hold your horses, one-horse town, put a horse to pasture, wild horses couldn’t drag me away, dark horse candidate, barrel of monkeys, monkey business, monkey suit, monkey on my back, go ape, and rat race.
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Hi everybody! This video is going to be a little different from what you’re used to seeing on Rachel’s English. This is a compilation video where I’m taking several of my videos and combining them into one longer video on a single topic. What’s really exciting is that we have another teacher helping with this video. Jennifer of JenniferESL. She’s been a popular YouTube English teacher since 2007 and I’m really excited that she’s helping with this video.
Today’s topic: animal idioms.
People are always asking me for more videos on idioms. So today you’re going to learn a lot, all related to animals: chickens, horses, and monkeys. All of these idioms are familiar to Americans, and used in conversational English.
Let’s get started hearing from teacher JenniferESL on idioms relating to chickens.
In our first set of expressions related to chickens, we have two nouns. The first, chicken. A chicken is a coward. If someone says ‘don’t be a chicken’, they’re saying, ‘don’t be a coward’, don’t be scared. We can say this in a teasing way, as a joke. But, because chicken means coward, it’s an insult. It can be offensive, so be careful.
The second is a noun phrase, pecking order. Pecking order. To peck is an action that chickens do with their beak, their mouth part. They can peck at the ground. Peck, peck, peck. Pecking order refers to behavior within a group. Not a group of chickens, but a group of people. Pecking order is hierarchy, it’s everyone’s status within a group. If we ask, “What’s the pecking order?”, we’re asking what’s the ranking within a particular social group.
In our second set of expressions related to chickens, we have four verbs. The first, chicken out. Chicken out. I already explained that a chicken is a coward. So to ‘chicken out’ is to decide not to do something because you’re a coward. So if you chickened out, you didn’t do something because you were too afraid.
Next, flew the coop, usually said in the past tense. Flew the coop. A coop is a structure where we keep chickens. It’s where they live. If the chickens flew the coop, they got out. If someone flew the coop, they left, they’re gone for good. And it usually implies some sort of escape to freedom.
Next, run around like a chicken with its head cut off. It’s a very colorful and maybe not-so-pleasant. But to run around like a chicken with its head cut off means that someone is going around in a crazy rush with little direction and no clear thinking. They’re very stressed and worried. They’re running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.
And last, we have ‘walk on egg shells’, often used in the progressive, walking on eggshells. Egg shells break, they crack easily. If you’re trying not to crack these eggshells, you’re walking carefully. If you’re walking on eggshells, you’re trying to be very careful. You’re afraid that maybe something you say or something that you do could offend or upset someone. So if you’re walking on eggshells, you’re being very careful not to upset anyone.
One time I got to see a chicken being slaughtered, so I literally got to see a chicken run around with it’s head cut off. It was pretty out of control. Thanks so much to Jennifer for teaching us those idioms. They’re all idioms that are well-known and used, so don’t chicken out, do try using them in speech.
Because people used to use horses a lot for work and transportation, there are a lot of horse idioms. One night a couple of years ago, I was wearing a big horse mask in lower Manhattan and got inspired with my friends to come up with as many horse idioms as we could.
Would you believe we came up with almost 20 phrases and idioms that use the word horse, or somehow reference horses. And, I’m sure there are more.
>>Get off your high horse.
>> Get off your high horse. That’s a perfect one.
>> Stop horsing around
>> These are, you have so many idioms!
>> Yeah, I’m cheating.
Get off your high horse. To be on a ‘high horse’ is to have an attitude of arrogance, of self-righteousness. ‘Get off your high horse’ means, stop being so arrogant. You have a couple options with the T in ‘get’. You can either make it a flap T, connecting it to the word ‘off’, get off, get off. Or, if you’re really emphasizing and going to make a pause, you can make it a stop T. Get off. Get off your high horse. Stop horsing around. Horsing around is rough or rowdy play, usually in good fun. My mom often accused my brother and I of horsing around.
>> Horse idioms. We have: don’t look a gift horse in the mouth…
>> …you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,
>> …hoofing it.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. This means, don’t be ungrateful or suspicious when someone gives you something. A friend said this to me recently when I was talking about an offer that I got from someone to help me with my business. And I was a little suspicious. He said, “You know, Rachel, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. This basically means, you can’t make people do what they don’t want to do. Let’s talk a little bit about the pronunciation. You can lead a horse. So the main verb here is the word ‘lead’. That means ‘can’ is a helping verb. So we don’t want to say ‘can’. We instead want to reduce that word to ‘kn’, ‘kn’. You can lead. You can lead a horse to water. But you can’t make it drink. You might hear a CH sound happening between ‘but’ and ‘you’, but you, but you. This can happen when the T is followed by the Y consonant, but you, but you. But you can’t make it drink. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Hoofing it means to be moving really fast, to be running somewhere. For example, I hoofed it to work because I overslept. Note that the double-O here is pronounced as the UH vowel, just like cook, book, and Brooklyn.
>> Straight from the horse’s mouth.
>> Making hay.
>> A charlie horse.
Straight from the horse’s mouth means that you’ve something from the most authoritative or dependable source. For example:
>> Did you hear Jane is quitting her job?
>> No way. Where did you hear that?
>> From Jane herself. Straight from the horse’s mouth.
Making hay, or, making hay while the sun shines. This is to make the most of current opportunities. If you put doing something off, you may loose the opportunity to do it. For example, let’s make hay and go for a run before it starts raining again.
A charlie horse. This phrase is used for muscle cramps in the legs. You might hear this phrase as you watch the Olympics this summer.
>> I could eat a horse.
>> I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. That’s true.
>> Did we say don’t beat a dead horse? Don’t beat a dead horse.
I could eat a horse. Well, this means, of course, that you’re very very hungry. Notice the T at the end of the word ‘eat’ links to the next word, a, a schwa sound, so it’s a flap T or a light D sound. Eat a, eat a, eat a. I could eat a horse.
>> Rachel, are you hungry?
>> Yeah, I skipped lunch, so I could eat a horse.
Don’t beat a dead horse. You might say this to someone who can’t let a situation go. If you think someone needs to accept things as they are, and they just keep talking about ‘what if?’, ‘what if?’, then you might say: Look, don’t beat a dead horse. It’s done.
>> Don’t put the cart before the horse.
>> That’s a horse of a different color.
Don’t put the cart before the horse. This means be patient and do things the right way, in the right order. Sometimes it’s very tempting to do things out of order and skip ahead. But it doesn’t always get the best results. Someone might say to you: do it right, don’t put the cart before the horse.
A horse of a different color. That is when you bring something up that is unlike that which you are already talking about. For example, to me, writing and spelling are easy. But math, that’s a horse of a different color. Meaning, to me, math is very hard.
>> Oh, there are so many idioms with ‘horse’!
>> Hold your horses!
>> Hold your horses!
>> That’s a great one.
Hold your horses. That means hold on, be patient, stop what you’ve just started. It’s among the most common of these horse idioms. Notice I’mreducing the word ‘your’ to ‘yer’, ‘yer’. Hold your horses.
>> This is a one-horse town. Put a horse out to pasture.
A one-horse town is a small, maybe insignificant town. For example, he’s very overwhelmed by the city, he comes from a one-horse town.
To put a horse out to pasture. This is when a racing horse is retired, but it can also be used with people, when someone is forced to retire. For example, Larry is past retirement age. I think it’s time to put him out to pasture.
>> Wild horses couldn’t drag him away.
>> Oh that’s a good one. I use that sometimes. My friend used that once recently.
Wild horses couldn’t drag him away. This is said when someone is very engrossed in or committed to something. Nothing can persuade him or her to leave or stop doing that thing. For example,
>> Are you watching the Mad Men Finale tonight?
>> Yes, wild horses couldn’t drag me away.
>> A dark horse candidate, for example.
A dark horse is someone who is more or less unknown who emerges to a place of prominence or importance, usually in a competition. This is used quite a bit to describe a candidate in politics.
After doing our idiom research, we went out to dinner, and then made our way home. Although, I can’t really recommend riding a bike in the horse mask, because essentially, I could not see a thing out of it.
And finally, a few monkey idioms. At the YouTube space in Los Angeles, I found a monkey suit, and couldn’t resist going over a few monkey idioms in costume.
To begin, let’s go over the pronunciation of the word ‘monkey’. This is a two-syllable word with stress on the first syllable. DA-da, monkey. It begins with the M consonant sound, where the lips come together. MMmmmo-. Then we have the UH as in BUTTER sound. This is a completely relaxed sound. So, your tongue should be forward and relaxed, uh, uh, a little bit of jaw drop, and your lips should be completely relaxed. MMmmmo-. Because this is a stressed syllable, it should have the up-down shape of a stressed syllable in the voice. Mo-, mon-.
Now we have the NG sound. The reason why the letter N is representing the NG sound is because the next sound is the K, and they’re made in the same spot. So, to make the NG sound, the tongue tip is here, touching behind the bottom front teeth, and the back part of the tongue reaches up and touches the soft palate. The soft palate is lowered here because it’s a nasal consonant, ng, ng-k. Then, to make the K, you just release the tongue down, monk-, -k-. The soft palate will close for that. Then we go into the EE as in SHE vowel. Monkey. Since it’s in an unstressed syllable, it should be very short and low in pitch, -key, -key, -key. Monkey.
Let’s get into some idioms. First, ‘fun as a barrel of monkeys’. This means something that’s really fun, kind of like this video. But I usually use it sarcastically, which means that I am explaining something that is not at all fun. For example, I’m going to the dentist to have a cavity filled. Fun as a barrel of monkeys. The stress pattern for this phrase is DA-da-da-DA-da. Barrel of monkeys. So, in many cases we’ll reduce the word ‘of’ to just have the schwa sound, no consonant at all. Barrel of, DA-da-da, Barrel of. Barrel of monkeys. Now here we’re making ‘monkey’ plural, so the S will be a Z sound, zz, because the sound before was a vowel. Monkeys, monkeys. So just a very quick, soft Z sound at the end there. Barrel of monkeys.
Monkey business. This can mean silliness. So you might say to a room full of rowdy kids, ‘Enough with the monkey business’. But, it can also mean dishonest behavior. Monkey business. DA-da-DA-da. So, the first syllable of ‘business’ is also stressed. This stressed syllable has the IH as in SIT vowel, bu-, bu-, and the first S here represents the Z sound. Bus-, business. The second syllable, since it’s unstressed, should be very quick, -ness, -ness, -ness. Business. Monkey business.
Monkey suit. That’s what I’m wearing! That’s the literal meaning. But there’s also an idiomatic meaning, and that’s a tuxedo or other formal evening wear for men. Monkey suit. DA-da-da. Monkey suit. So, the word ‘suit’ has the S consonant sound. The letters U-I represent the OO as in BOO vowel, and we finish with a Stop T. Monkey suit, monkey suit.
Monkey on my back. This is a problem or something that’s really stressful that’s taking a long time to resolve or won’t go away. For example, my friend is going through a nasty divorce. It’s a monkey on his back. The stress pattern is DA-da-da-da-DA. Monkey on his back. So, ‘back’ is stressed. The words ‘on’, and the next function word, whether it’s ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘his’, or ‘her’, will be unstressed. So, ‘on my’, ‘on my’, those two words will be really quick, low in pitch, and not too clear, on my, on my. Or, it could be ‘on your’, ‘on your’. Notice I’m reducing the word ‘your’ to ‘yer’. We’ve already made a video about that, so check it out. ‘On his’ or ‘on her’. In both of those cases, we’ll probably drop the H. On his, on his, monkey on his back. Or, on her, on her, monkey on her back. Check out this video on Dropping the H Reductions.
Have you ever heard someone say “I’m going to go ape.” That means to get really angry. For example, if she screws up my car, I’m going to go ape. Both ‘go’ and ‘ape’ are stressed, so the stress pattern is DA-DA. Go ape. We have the G consonant sound and the OH as in NO diphthong. Sometimes my students don’t round their lips enough for the second half of this diphthong, go, go, so make sure you do that. Ape. It begins with the AY as in SAY diphthong. Make sure you drop your jaw enough for the first sound of that diphthong, a-, a-pe. And finally, the P sound, ape. Go ape.
Not all rodents are cute, but this one is. This is from my children’s collection of stuffed animals and hand puppets. I’m not even certain if this is a mouse or a rat, but seeing it reminds me of an idiom we have in English, rat race. ‘Rat race’ refers to the daily struggle to be successful at work where there’s competition and pressure to produce. One day after the other you go through this routine hoping to come out on top. But really, you’re one of thousands. ‘Rat race’ refers to this whole situation.
Many complain about the rat race and say they hate the rat race. Some think about quitting the rat race. Others actually leave the rat race behind. They change jobs or they change their lifestyle. Maybe they retire early, or move out to the country where life is more peaceful.
You’ve just learned a lot of idioms. Challenge to you: come up with a sentence for one of the idioms you learned in this video and put it in the comments below.
Special thanks to Jennifer for her contribution to this video.
That’s all for now. Thanks for joining Rachel and me for this special lesson. Happy studies to all.
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