“Put all your eggs in one basket and then look at that basket.” — Andrew Carnegie
If you’ve been following the news, you’ve no doubt heard the concerns about a possible “bear market” for those who own stocks. Merriam-Webster says the term “bear market” comes from an old adage not to sell the bearskin until you’ve shot the bear.
An easier way to remember that a bear market is going down is to remember that a bear wipes its claw down while fighting. A rising “bull market” seems to have gotten its name simply because a bull seemed like a good animal to counter the bear.
These terms are just two examples of some of the animal-related idioms we use every day, and that’s what we’ll look at this time, along with some of the weirder animal-related terms out there.
For example, when I recently accompanied my friend Claus, who was finally returning from Germany, to Open Farm Day here in Maine, he asked me why the man on one of the farms was yelling at crows. “Maybe he was just having a bad day,” I replied, “but it’s more likely he’s a crow herder, or someone employed to scare off crows.”
“To yell at crows? That seems like a strange activity,” he said.
“Crows are bad for the harvest,” I replied. “Besides, many people are annoyed by their incessant scratching,” which I explained was like the croaking of ravens, but more raw. “And if you think crow-herding is a strange profession, don’t even get me started on hogreves,” I said, “the officers whose job it is to confiscate pigs.”
“You Americans must have some funny words about animals,” Claus noted.
“If you think our animal words are weird, some of our animal expressions will really hit your goat,” I said, before explaining that “butcher” comes from the old French word “bocher” (“boc” meant “goat” ) for “Goat Slaughterhouse.”
“Hold your horses,” he said, “you wouldn’t try to sell me a pig in a sack, would you?”
“In a pig’s eye,” I shot back. “I’ll lie to you like pigs fly. This information comes straight from the horse’s mouth.”
So he decided to stop being a pighead and listened as I went all out on some of my favorite animal-related idioms.
‘Chicken,’ I said, ‘There are many idioms about chickens and eggs. For example, when you start a business, you walk around like a chicken with a severed head. And be careful not to put all your eggs in one basket. Oh, and never count your chickens before they hatch,” I warned, checking some business advice I’d heard.
I thought about changing the subject, but I was afraid Claus would accuse me of switching horses halfway through, so I kept going. Admittedly, by this point I wasn’t romping and really bringing home the bacon while thumping about sacred cows and sleeping dogs.
Claus finally had enough and told me to stop pulling a dead horse.
“Sorry, I could go on about our American animal idiom until the cows come home,” I said, noting that those cows probably go to a stall (cow barn) at night to eat their fodder (feed).
“Enough!” said Klaus. “How do I know all your mischief isn’t a bunch of bulls?”
“Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” I replied. “If you don’t have any pets, let’s leave this whole idiom thing in the pasture, if that’s all right with you.”
“I’m as happy as a pig in, uh, mud,” he replied.
Lewiston’s Jim Witherell is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “LL Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected]
Mystery photo for July 31, 2022
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