Animal idioms

Learning idioms in foreign languages is a fun way to acquire new vocabulary and to get insights in the thought processes and culture of people who speak those languages. Today we have a selection of animal-related idioms from a variety of languages.

The Portuguese equivalent of ‘his bark is worse than his bite’ is cão que ladra não morde (the dog that barks doesn’t bite). In Spanish it’s perro que ladra no muerde, which means the same as the Portuguese, or perro ladrador, poco mordedor (a dog that barks rarely bites). These idioms are used to indicate that someone with a fierce or threatening appearance or manner isn’t a fierce or violent person. It can also be used more literally when talking about dogs. Related idioms in English include a barking dog never bites, all bark and no bite, and all mouth and no trousers.

Someone  who is very clumsy or rude, especially in delicate situations, could be described as being like a ‘bull in a china shop’.  In French they say such people are like ‘an elephant in a porcelain factory’ (Un éléphant dans un magasin de porcelaine). In Danish the equivalent is som en elefant i en glasbutik (like an elephant in a glass store), in Russian they say Слон в посудной лавке (An elephant in china shop) and in German it’s wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen (like an elephant in a porecelain shop). The Dutch equivalent, als een olifant in een porseleinkast, means the same as the German and Russian.

If someone is a bit crazy, you could say that they have ‘bats in the belfrey’ or that they have ‘have kangeroo loose in the top paddock’. In Croatian you could say vrane su mu popile mozak (Crows have drunk his brain), while in French they that such as person has  a spider on the ceiling (une araigneé au plafond). Having little monkeys in the attic is the Portuguese equivalent – tem macaquinhos no sotão – and in Spanish such a person is said to be crazier than a goat (más loco que una cabra).