Posts tagged ‘animals’

September 24, 2012

Dog Days

The dog days of summer are over for this year – at least here in the Northern hemisphere, down south, they will be coming – soonish.

Enjoying the dog days of summer, pic:

The hottest, most sultry days of summer a referred to as the dog days (of summer).  First I was thinking the expression had to do with real dogs, as in the old saying “only Englishmen and mad dogs …” which is a joking reference to the apparent habit of Englishmen to run around during the hottest hours of the day wherever they are, say India, or the Congo or Tunisia.  Mad dogs are apparently share the same pastime.

anyways, it appears that the dog days go further back in time than Englishmen and date back to the Romans, who referred to Sirius as the Dog Star.  The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose jaround sunrise.  This is no longer true, though, be cause of the precession of the equinoxes.  The Romans apparently sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.

May 2, 2011

Groups of animals

a bunch of sandpipers are called a fling, pic:

Many animals hang around in larger groups and these groups have names, different names for different animals.  Some of these names are fairly well-known others I had never heard of until I looked them up today.  Here are a few useful ones – ones you will hear in everyday life, although not on an everyday basis – and a few weird ones.  In my world everything I have never heard mentioned in conversation in my 14 years in the US are qualify as weird ones.

Probably the most well-know example is herd, it is used for cattle, deer, bisons and alike

Flock is also a common one, it is used for birds and, apparently for camels, goats and lice.

Monkeys come in troops

Beavers, bats and badgers, along with ants, chinchilla,s frogs and penguis form colonies

Fish in general come in schools (I thought this one weird when I first heard it but I got used to it).

Now for a few strange ones:

Barracudas come in batteries, sea birds in wrecks, caterpillars in armies, cheetahs form coalitions (how sensible) and cockroaches, intuitively, come in intrusions.

Forget the last few ones – you will probably never need these words.  If your brain works like mine, however, this is exactly the reason why you will never forget these terms.

March 25, 2011

Raining cats and dogs

It's raining cats and dogs, pic:

It has been raining very heavily for days without end in sight – so the old idiom “it is raining cats and dogs” came to my mind.  It means just that: very heavy and persistent rain.

I hardly ever use this idiom because I thought that it  is an old-fashioned expression and that nobody used it anymore and likely people wouldn’t even understand it anymore.  The first is true, the latter not necessarily as was proven to me the other day when my 6-year old said:  “Mama, it is raining cats and dogs!”

“Where did you get that expression?” I asked

“In school, from a book” he answered  – so obviously the idiom is still widely enough used to make it into kids’ school books.

The origin of the phrase is unknown and – as usual in some cases – a number of theories have been put forward.  One explanation that has some credibility as there is a documented source is that in England of the 17th century sewage and drainage systems weren’t very efficient and so when heavy downpours happened the streets were turned into rivers of doubtful water quality carrying with it all sorts of things, including the corpses of drowned cats and dogs.

Here is the reference: Jonathan Swift’s 1710 poem ‘Description of a City Shower’, in which he describes “Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,/Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood.”

This might or might not be the explanation but somehow it doesn’t matter.  I just wish it would stop raining cats and dogs.

March 23, 2011

Headless chickens

Frenzied chicken - with head, pic:

Running around like a headless chicken is a very colorful figure of speech for running around frenzied and without a plan.  It implies that the person behaving like the headless chicken is doing whatever she or he is doing very quickly and distractedly and without without thinking carefully about what you are doing

The origin of that expression is pretty obvious: after decapitation poultry sometimes runs around for several minutes in an uncoordinated and frenzied manner.

Another way of saying the same thing is: running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Here are some examples:

My colleague has been out sick the last week and so I have be running around like a headless chicken trying to do both my own work and his.

She lost her purse at the airport and was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to find it.

March 14, 2011

Red Herring

A red herring, pic:

My first introduction to the concept of a Red Herring was in form of the business magazine.  It was the late 90s and everybody in business school was reading those magazines – when they weren’t calling their stock brokers to do a little in-between-class trading, that is.  It was the days before Internet brokers.

Herring makes me think of fish and actually, for once I am not so terribly off with that notion.   But first to the meaning of that phrase:  a red herring is the tactic of diverting attention away from what matters and onto something else.  The idea is to win an argument by diverting attention away from the argument and onto another topic.

Mystery fiction is a good example, often a false suspect is established in the course of the story as a way of distracting the attention away from the real culprit.

The origin of the phrase actually has to do with fish, strongly cured or heavily smoked kipper – which smell pungently and have a reddish color.  These fish were used to train young scent hounds – first to follow a strong scent, then to not be distracted from the faint smell of a fox or whatever was being hunted but the strong smell of a “red herring” that was dragged across the hunted animals trail.

February 23, 2011

Flocking birds

Another of these somewhat old-fashioned idioms that are good for your passive vocabulary – good to understand but not necessarily what you would use every day in your conversations with your colleagues, the cashier at Safeway or while getting your nails done.

Sea-gulls flocking together, pic: (c) Tina Baumgartner

The idiom is: “birds of a feather flock together”.  My 6-year old would be very excited now, screaming “it rhymes!”

Rhyming or not, the idiom means that people who have something in common: interests, temperament, taste, education etc. like to hang out together.

This can be good and bad – on the good side members in groups with common interests can be very tight and mutually supportive.  The negative side effects of people who think alike are obvious with groups like the Klu-Klux Klan.

The origin is obvious: birds of a single species do frequently form flocks. Ornithologists explain this behavior as a ‘safety in numbers’ tactic to reduce their risk of being caught by a predator.

February 22, 2011

Shooting fish

in a barrel – this action is exactly what you think it would be: easy, effortless, a simple action, success virtually guaranteed.  As such this is a rather lame way of obtaining fish for dinner.

Shooting fish in a barrel - all too easy, pic:

An interesting side story is that, a group called Mythbusters actually tested out whether it is easy to shoot fish in a barrel.  Mythbusters is a Aussie created and produced show in which science (or at least some science) is used to test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes, adages, Internet videos and news stories.

Here is what they found: shooting fish in a barrel is indeed easy.  Actually hitting them might not be but the pressure wave created by the shooting is enough to kill the fish.  Details about their experiment can be found here.

This expression is not very frequently used but it is good to understand what it means should it come up in conversation.

January 15, 2011

The fox in the henhouse

“Like a fox guarding the henhouse” or “Don’t let the fox guard the henhouse” is an idiom that is used to point out to somebody that his/her action invite disaster.

Hungry fox looking for a henhouse, pic: © Allegretto |

If you assign somebody a duty and doing so put that person into a position where he or she then can exploit the situation for his own benefit then you let the fox guard the henhouse.  What is more: not only can that person exploit the situation, he/she likely will – like the fox who can’t help himself looking at all those yummy chickens.

Here is an example of a fox-guarding-the-henhouse situation:

“You put your spendthrift brother in charge of managing your inheritance and gave him power of attorney for your account?  That is letting the fox guard the henhouse!”

Here is an example of a headline using the expression: “Did Obama’s Monsanto Choice Put the Fox in Charge of the Hen-House”

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January 14, 2011

Fish ISO bicycle

Couple of things here.  Firstly, ISO is an acronym for many a thing, like International Organization for Standardization but in personal ads it stands for “in search of” so here this would translate into fish in search of bicycle.

This fish seems to really need its bicycle, pic:

Which brings us to the second point – the expression: like a fish needs a bicycle.  The point is, the fish does not need a bicycle ever and so the bicycle is superfluous.

The slogan is attributed to Gloria Steinem and was originally a feminist slogan ” A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  That makes this idiom a young one  – as idioms go.

It can, of course be used in other contexts to indicate that something is utterly superfluous.


“I think I am coming down with a cold.  Right now I need a cold like a fish a bicycle.”

There are, however, curiously few google results for that particular idiom and not very many at all that refer to something other than women and men.

The expression is somewhat sarcastic but altogether light-hearted.  It is fine in personal use but on the job I would use it sparingly and if so only with a facial expression and body language to indicate that I mean to make a silly little joke.

January 13, 2011

The 800 lbs gorilla

Let’s start by talking about the size of real gorillas:  according to Enchanted Learning a fully grown male gorilla weighs about 400 lbs.  so by all standards a 800 lbs gorilla is an exceptionally large specimen.

An 800 lbs gorilla - dancing, pic: © Allegretto |

But then again, the proverbial 800 lbs gorilla isn’t really a gorilla, but a large, unstoppable, overbearing entity or organization that cannot be ignored – as hard as one might try.

A variation on the expression one sees quite often is “800 lbs gorilla in the room.”

Thephrase is often used to refer to a large player in an industry.  Here are some examples how the phrase can be used:

“Microsoft is the 800 lbs gorilla of the software industry”

Here is a headline: “Netflix: The chimp who took down the 800 lbs gorilla?”

and another: “Broadsoft: The 800 lbs call center gorilla.”

The phrase is commonly used and perfectly acceptable in a business environment.  It is generally used to refer to organizations rather than people (not very flattering) but it wouldn’t be impossible to use it for an individual who exerts as lot of influence, e.g. a meeting with mainly junior people – and the CEO.