Animal Idioms in the Workplace

atkins-bookshelf-phrasesIn the Darwinian dog-eat-dog workplace, certain situations naturally call for colorful metaphors that feature animals  — everything from a tiny fly to the enormous elephant. Ironically, man’s best friend, the dog, is the most maligned of all the animals referenced in these idioms. Here are some animal idioms that are commonly used during business meetings and around water coolers.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: having something for certain is better than the possibility of getting something better

A cuckoo in the nest: a problem that grows quickly and crowds out everything else; a person that is part of the group but is different and often disliked

A dead duck: a failure

A dog and pony show: a presentation to get people to support a project or secure a contract for goods or services

A fly in the ointment: someone or something that spoils a situation that could have been successful or pleasant, or reduces the value of something

A pig in a poke (or “buy a pig in a poke”): a deal or offer that is foolishly accepted without being examined first.

A pig in a python: a sharp statistical increase, represented as a bulge, in an otherwise level pattern

Albatross around one’s neck: a past action that causes a person problems and stops them from being successful

Barking up the wrong tree: to make the wrong choice or ask the wrong person

Bird’s eye view: a consideration of a problem or situation from a comprehensive perspective

Boiling frog syndrome: a company that fails to recognize gradual market change

Dog eat dog: people will do anything to succeed, even if it harms other people

The early bird catches the worm: the person who arrives first has the best chance for success

Elephant in the room: an issue which everyone in a meeting knows is a problem, but no one wants to mention

Let the cat out of the bag: to disclose a secret

Let sleeping dogs lie: to leave something alone if it might cause trouble

Like a fish out of water: to be uncomfortable in a particular situation

Lipstick on a pig: an attempt to put a favorable spin on a negative story or situation

Moose on the table: an issue which everyone in a meeting knows is a problem, but no one wants to address

Pigs might fly (or when pigs fly): the unlikeliness of something happening or to mock a person’s credulity

Prairie dogging: popping one’s head above an office cubicle to spy on colleagues

Red herring: a deliberate misleading and diverting of attention from the real issue

Seagull manager: a manager who files in, makes a lot of noise, shits over everything, and then leaves

Shoot the puppy: to do something ruthless, but necessary

Something is fishy: something is suspicious

To cry wolf: to raise a false alarm about something

To have bigger fish to fry: to have more important things to accomplish

To kill two birds with one stone: to solve two problems at once

To open a can of worms: to do something that exposes a very difficult issue or problem

To put the cart before the horse: To do things in the wrong order

To screw the pooch: to make a serious mistake

White elephant: a burdensome possession that creates more trouble than it is worth

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink: you can give a person an opportunity but cannot force them to take it

Read related posts: What is a Collocation?
What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?

For further reading: The Wonder of Whiffling and Other Extraordinary Words in the English Language by Adam Jacot de Boinod (2009)

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.