Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
animal English vocabulary idioms and expressions

Have you heard somebody talk about using a monkey wrench in English?

Do you feel as if there are a lot of animal idioms that you may not necessarily understand?

You want to understand the meaning as these are a very common and fun aspect of conversation.

We’re going to look at some common animal idioms, what they mean, and how to use them in your conversations so that you can connect on a better level with natives and enjoy making jokes with the language.

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Animal Words With Different Meanings

We’ve touched on this before, but there are so many that it’s worth bringing up again.

There are so many different animal words that are used in totally different ways.

There are even animal words that you can use on the IELTS Speaking Test to move your vocabulary score above a typical Band 6.

These animal idioms are quite common, and they have come up before.

We did an episode on this that kicked off this topic that can be quite helpful for some background.

Check out this episode: Quit Horsing Around and Listen Today

So as you can see we talked about “horsing around” in the first episode on animal idioms.

We’re really focusing on words that are just used differently.

There are a lot of these animal idioms, and it just so happens that many of them tend to be quite negative in nature.

Looking At Animal Idioms

These phrases are quite common, and so you want to understand them.

If you hear them in conversation, they may seem a bit confusing at first.

You use an animal reference in part of the phrase, but it isn’t really about animals at all.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common animal idioms, some of which you have probably heard used in English.

  • To badger someone: This means to bother somebody, or even to harass them. It’s definitely not a good thing and it’s a negative action. Nobody wants to be nagged or bothered excessively, and that’s exactly what it means to badger them. If you say this, know that it will be taken in a negative way. You might hear “Sometimes it’s hard to walk two blocks in New York without being badgered by someone asking you to sign a petition!”
  • Don’t be a turkey: It basically means don’t be an idiot. This is definitely not a nice thing to say though it can also be a bit sarcastic in nature. You are trying to tell someone to just act normal and not be silly or ridiculous when you use this phrase. You might hear something like “Don’t be a turkey Lindsay! You will easily make friends, because you are so outgoing and energetic.”

These are just a couple of the animal idioms that you may use in conversation, but as you will see there are many others to understand and use.

Other Great Idioms To Use

There are so many great animal idioms, so you may wish to break them down a bit.

Look at each of these examples one at a time, and then think about how you can use them in conversation.

So what are some other ones?

  • Silly goose: This is more playful and fun, but it says what you need it to say. It’s as if to say don’t be silly or ridiculous. This would be totally appropriate to use with a child, and so it works universally. You would say something like “You are being such a silly goose! Sit in your chair!”
  • Pig headed: This means stubborn, often to a significant degree. This is something you would say to somebody that only wants things their way or who won’t listen to others. You are saying this to somebody who is stubborn, sometimes beyond reason. You might say “I don’t like it when they refuse to come to our house. They are being so pig headed–we went out there last time!”
  • Fox: This is something you say about somebody who is sexy or really attractive. It’s slang and so you want to be sure to use it with the right person in the appropriate conversations. You would say “That guy is such a fox!”
  • To parrot: This means to imitate somebody in a rather extreme way. This is just like a parrot in real life who repeats the things that you say. You might often say this about a child who mirrors everything that their parents do. You might say “My daughter parrots everything I say. It’s cute for now!”
  • To dog-ear: This refers to you marking a page in a book by bending it over. This is something we all do, but it doesn’t preserve the quality of the book after awhile. You might hear “That’s a library book, so don’t dog ear your page. It will ruin the book!”
  • Monkey wrench: This is a term used about an actual type of wrench. This is a specific tool that you may need to use for a specific purpose. You might say “We need a monkey wrench to put together the furniture.”

As you can see there are so many animal idioms used in conversation.

It’s amazing just how often we use these words and phrases, and you probably don’t think about the animal reference anymore.


Animals and insects are extremely prevalent in our language in ways that you can’t even imagine.

These are all very natural phrases and idioms that people use without even thinking twice.

You likely don’t even think of them as animal words because they are just regular words and phrases in conversation.

Try out these animal idioms and see how they really add to your conversations in English.

This is a really fun and interesting part of conversation, and so it’s a great aspect to understand and use.

Remember, if you are taking IELTS in 2020 go here to join our 3 Keys IELTS Success System and get a guaranteed score increase.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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