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Farmyard Animals and Fish in English Proverbs and Sayings

I love the English language, it's so expressive and colourful, with its nuances of meaning, metaphors, puns, proverbs, and regional slang

Numerous English Proverbs and Sayings Featuring Animals

There are so many expressions that it must be very difficult for people learning English as a second language ( ESL or ESOL , TESOL or even TSL ) to remember enough of these figures of speech to be able to use them with the ease that English speaking people do.


Here You Will Find Cows, Pigs, Sheep, Goats, Crabs and Fish

This web page will be a fun reminder to native English speakers about some of the animals we refer to in figurative speech.

For those who are just learning English, or who speak English as a second language, I am sure that you will learn some new English expressions here and will improve your English accordingly.

A Jolly Pig Rolling on its Back

A Jolly Pig Rolling on its Back

Proverbs And Sayings About Pigs


(Note to students of English: "oink-oink" is an onomatopoeaic phrase to describe the sound emitted by a pig (but I expect that was pretty obvious!).

To Pig (or to Pig Out):To gorge oneself with food. e.g. The meal was exceptionally good, so we pigged out on it.

To Be a pig: To be rude, vulgar, dirty, greedy or uncultured. e.g. He's got no manners and doesn't know how to behave--he's just a pig.

A Pigsty: A dirty or untidy place. e.g. The kitchen was like a pigsty and looked as though it hadn't been cleaned for months.

Live Like Pigs: Live in a dirty or untidy place. e.g. They live like pigs and there was rubbish everywhere.

Pig Ignorant: Abysmally ignorant or unsocialized. e.g. He was pig ignorant and didn't even know that Africa is a continent, not a country.

Pig in a Poke: Something which is bought without being seen and turns out to be no good, useless. e.g. She bought a second hand bicycle online and it was a pig in a poke as the frame was bent and the brakes didn't work properly.

You Can't Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow's Ear: You can't make something excellent unless you start with the right basic material. e.g. He wasn't very bright and shouldn't have been promoted--you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Casting Pearls Before Swine: Giving good things to people who don't appreciate what they are receiving. e.g. Buying her a high tech phone is casting pearls before swine, because she won't understand how to operate it.

A Swine: An unpleasant person. e.g. He was such a swine, he ran off and left her to bring up the children with no financial support.

Pig Tails: Hair which has been plaited. e.g. She had red ribbons to tie up her pig tails.

To Hog: To take or hoard selfishly. e.g. The children hogged all the biscuits without offering any to the guests.

To Go the Whole Hog: To do something fully. e.g. He went the whole hog and dressed up in a smart suit and tie for the interview.

Hogwash: Nonsense. e.g. It was pure hogwash to say that the coronavirus pandemic would be over in three months.

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Here's A Silly Piggy Poem Which I Wrote

Oddly enough, the word "Piggy" is used by some people as a term of endearment

By way of explanation for those learning English as a second language, the word "piggy" is quite an affectionate diminutive form of pig, whereas the word "swine" has a pejorative meaning, and if you call someone a swine, this indicates someone horrible, or of bad character.

However, I would grade it as much less insulting than the way that Muslims use the word "pig"--English people might use the words "swine" or "pig" in a joking manner, or as a mild insult, whereas if a Muslim were to call someone a "pig", it would have a deeply offensive meaning.


Give me your love

I'll give you mine

And never be a little swine.

Be my Piggy,

Eyes that shine -

My Piggy, yes, but not my swine

© Diana Grant

Take This Poll About the Relationship Between Pigs and Rudeness

How offensive do you think it is to call someone a Pig? And what about a Greedy Pig? Or Piggy--is that rude?. And what about calling them a Swine?

Does the tone of voice or the context affect how the words should be viewed? What if you are laughing when you say it? And what if you are angry or sneering?

Jersey Cow -

Jersey Cow -

Proverbs And Sayings About Cattle

A Great Bull of a Man: A huge or strong man. e.g. Don't get into a fight with him, he's a great bull of a man and would knock you flying.

Bullseye: The centre of a target in archery and darts e.g. He scored the first bullseye in the competition.

Like a Bull in a China Shop: Very clumsy and likely to break something. e.g. You just dropped that glass--you're like a bull in a china shop.

Bullish: someone who wants their own way, headstrong. e.g. The president is very bullish.

A Cock and Bull Story: An unbelievable story. e.g. The new Borat film is a real cock and bull stor--I'm surprised so many participants were taken in.

A Cow: An unpleasant woman (Derogatory expression). e.g. She's such a cow, she stole money from the charity box.

As Strong as an Ox: very strong physically. e.g. He's as strong as an ox, lifting that huge bag of sand.


Proverbs And Sayings About Sheep And Goats

An Old Goat: An old person. e.g. An old goat like him is useless with a smartphone and wouldn't know where to start.

To Get his Goat: To irritate someone. e.g. He's so negative it really gets my goat.

To Go Like a Lamb to the Slaughter: Going meekly e.g. She didn't complain at all when she was sacked--she just went like a lamb to the slaughter.

A Ram: A rampant male. e.g. Don't let the girls near him, he's a bit of a ram.

Sheepish: Embarrassed. e.g. He looked a bit sheepish as he tightened his trousers after seeing someone pointing at his behind and whispering "builder's bum").

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Someone who is not what he seems. e.g. He seems so pleasant and kind, but really he's just a wolf in sheep's clothing and was convicted for domestic abuse.

You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb: If two crimes or wrong-doings have the same penalty, you might as well commit the more serious one, as you will be punished anyway e.g. If you're going to be late for work, you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and take the whole day off.

To be like sheep - To follow or do what everyone else is doing (i.e. to be one of a crowd), and not stand out. e.g. Even though they knew nothing about him, they voted for him like sheep, just because their friends voted for him.


Proverbs And Sayings About Fish and Molluscs

Not strictly farmyard animals, but they have to go somewhere!

A Piranha: Someone who preys on people. e.g. Where money is concerned, he's a bit of a piranha

As Easy as Shooting Fish in a Barrel: Very easy. e.g. I received an "A" for that exam--it was as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Sleeping with the Fishes: Assasinated and thrown in the sea. e.g. Be careful of thos criminals or you'll find yourself sleeping with the fishes.

Set a Spratt to Catch a Mackerel: Use something small and insignificant to lure in the important thing. e.g. If you want to find out whether your employee is honest, just leave a pile of loose cash lying around--set a spratt to catch a mackerel.

A Shrimp: Someone small or weak. e.g. I'm only 5 feet high--a bit of a shrimp really.

Crabby: Crochetty or bad-tempered. e.g. She's a bit crabby today--I think something must have upset her.

A Shark: A devious crook (e.g. a loan shark). e.g. Watch out for your savings if you do dealings with that man--he's known to be a shark.

An Octopus: A man who gropes women. e.g. Be on your guard if you are near that man--he's a bit of an octopus.

Like a Fish Out of Water: Someone who is out of place in his/her current situation. e.g. I was the only one in the room who wasn't an Oxford graduate, and it made me feel like a fish out of water.

To Cling Like a Limpet: To hold on to something very tightly (either literally or figuratively). e.g. She clings like a limpet to her son and won't let him out of her sight.

More Crabs

An Interesting Book About English Expressions

© 2010 Diana Grant

This Is Where You Leave Your Comments - I Love To Hear From People

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on August 02, 2014:

@burntchestnut: It never ceases to amaze me how many expressions and metaphors we have in the English language, which we use without even thinking about them - they just roll off our tongues!

burntchestnut on August 01, 2014:

I've heard of all but one of these sayings. I think proverbs and sayings are fascinating. Here is the U.S. we have different sayings for different parts of the country. And Aesop's fables has a lot of interesting proverbs.

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on July 31, 2014:

@Ibidii: I'm lucky, I learnt Latin for five years at school, which helps a lot with understanding vocabulary, I must say

Ibidii on July 31, 2014:

There are so many sayings and references that I have never heard before! How very interesting! I love researching the etymology of words and sayings! I bet you cringe like I do when I see people use the wrong words and spell wrong online! I think that it came from how much it cost initially per word/letter when texting started. But they still use it when the amount of space/words are not restricted! LOL!!! Great lens!

Jill Hart from Weston, Idaho on January 22, 2014:

a totally fun visit!

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on June 05, 2013:

@Gypzeerose: Thanks for your lovely comment. A spratt is a small fish, bigger than an anchovy but smaller than a sardine I think.

Rose Jones on June 05, 2013:

Always fun to visit your lenses. I pinned this to my board "colorful speech" - a board that I had started after visiting another of your lenses. "Sleeping with the Fishes - Assasinated and thrown in the sea and Set a Spratt to Catch a Mackerel - Use something small and insignificant to lure in the important thing" - now I know two cool new phrases, but I have to learn what a spratt is.

DeliaCrowe on June 02, 2013:

Nice lens.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on June 02, 2013:

This is a very clever idea for a lens and I enjoyed my visit here. Thanks.

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