Beastly Expressions

Monitor Quiz

Many of our favorite expressions in English come from observing animals. For example, to say that something happened in "two shakes of a lamb's tail" means it happened very quickly. To "let sleeping dogs lie" is not to disturb a potentially volatile situation. And if you "smell a rat," it means you suspect something. See if you can complete these stories of how other such turns of phrase came to be:

1. In the early years of baseball, when a zero appeared on the scoreboard, it was called a "goose egg." To make a mistake or lose is to....

2. At the turn of the century, Americans who wanted to impress others bought small, expensive dogs to sit on their laps, following a custom in English high society. To dress lavishly so as to show off is to....

3. Years ago, people sold young pigs in bags at county fairs. Sometimes a dishonest seller would put a cat rather than a pig in the bag. When the bag was opened, the cat was revealed! To reveal a secret is to.... [Extra credit: Another expression refers to the bag, or 'poke' that the pigs were sold in. Do you know it?]

4. Long ago, people thought that animals had magic powers that could affect the weather. Cats symbolized rain; dogs, wind storms. A violent rainstorm meant that it was....

5. In Roman times, the hottest weeks in summer were thought to be caused by Sirius, the "dog star," as it rose with the sun. The hottest, most humid days of summer are called....

6. These birds are known to fly straight to their destination. The shortest distance between two points is....

7. Rabbits, deer, and other animals raise their tails high when running from danger as a warning to their fellows. To make a fast getaway is to...

8. This bushy-tailed animal collects food in the summer and fall to eat in the winter. To save is to....

9. The wool of a black sheep has little value because it is difficult to dye. An outcast is therefore known as a....

10. Goats are often stabled with thoroughbred race horses to calm them. Horses who were used to having the goats around would become very upset when the goats were removed. To irritate someone is to....

ANSWERS

(1) lay an egg; (2) put on the dog; (3) let the cat out of the bag; [extra: "Never buy a pig in a poke."] (4) raining cats and dogs; (5) dog days; (6) as the crow flies; (7) hightail it; (8) squirrel away; (9) black sheep; (10) get his goat.

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