< SWITCH ME >
|Written by Lucy Duggan|
If you want to speak the English language like a true descendent of Shakespeare - or of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf... - look no further. In the second instalment of our series on idiomatic English, here's a whole menagerie of animal-inspired phrases which you'll soon be parroting...
If you're an only child, you might have trouble relating to the confession I’m about to make. But if you have siblings, you’ll probably know what I mean. When I was a child I was a dog in the manger. I didn't want to pass on any of my clothes to my younger sisters, even when they were too small for me – and I didn’t want my siblings to read my books, "because they might crumple the pages." The original dog in the manger was a selfish character in Aesop’s fables: a dog which lay on the hay and left the ox and the horse to go hungry.
It’s funny how often we compare people to animals – usually other people rather than ourselves. Of course, phrases like the lion’s share and eagle-eyed are common in many languages, not just English. But English does have quite a unique menagerie of zoological verbs scuttling around its dictionaries. And best of all, these remarkably concise metaphors are great for impressing your hosts on a trip to
So next time you’re offered some of our famous "English cuisine," make sure you wolf it down (gobble it up hungrily) without inquiring too closely into the ingredients. Phone home to tell your continental friends how you pigged out (guzzled large quantities of food). If your Canadian hosts badger you (persistently pester you) to come white water rafting down the Niagara Falls, don’t chicken out (refuse due to cowardice) – though you could instead out-fox them (trick them cunningly) by parroting (repeating word for word without necessarily seeming to understand) your mother’s wishes that you experience some culture rather than risking your life with extreme sports.
Whilst on your trip, you might like to follow the example of many of Jane Austen’s male characters by worming your way into the affections of a young girl, preferably the younger daughter of a vicar. This disconcertingly phallic metaphor describes the act of forcing one’s way in slyly. Weasel your way round (cunningly circumvent) her objections by rabbiting on (talking incessantly) about how much you love her; swan around (walk about ostentatiously) at the autumn ball, the prom or the student union bop with her on your arm. Then drop her callously.
Should her father accuse you of monkeying around (messing about), don’t let yourself be cowed (intimidated) by his fury or dogged (constantly followed) by guilt. And don’t wait to be hounded (pursued relentlessly) by local newspapers or novelists – just board the next plane home, as Jane Austen’s Wickham and Willoughby would have done if there had been any planes in those days.
When you’re back in continental climes, crabbily (irritably) wondering whether you were a scaredy-cat (a coward) to desert your young conquest, and asking yourself whether your future fiancée might, as in most good novels, ferret out (unearth through determined investigation) the story of your misdemeanours and subsequently desert you, it may occur to you that there are one or two gaps in the English petshop of metaphors.
There aren’t many noble verbs to encourage brave or virtuous behaviour: what happened to "to lion," "to tiger" or "to falcon"? And the wonderful word "to slug" (to be lazy or slow) disappeared from the language in about the 1700s, before it could be used to describe modern students. But at least when you go downstairs, ready to send a passionate and contrite email to your jilted lover, to find your little brother hogging the computer (selfishly refusing to let you use it), even though he never even gets any emails – now you’ll know that he’s being a dog in the manger.