European Animal-Related Idioms

“Is Europe really a poor continent neglected by nature? No, surely not, and no historiographer or physicist would approve this judgment.”

Friedrich Schlegel, German poet, 1803

Hold your horses! You can’t pretend to give a monkey’s about Europe if you’re not familiar with some of its most barking animal idioms. Our attitudes to our furry and feathered friends is embedded in our language. When you’re rabbiting on you might casually mention someone is as strong as a horse or as stubborn as a mule — no need to be sheepish, we’ve all been doing it for donkey’s years. Don’t be outfoxedthe world is your oyster, and there’s many of these expressions to be found in every country across Europe. Does the Slovenian roosters’ breakfast ring you a bell? Will you pay the Portuguese duck for that? Do not worry: we won’t let you swallow French grass snakes! We’ve been collecting for you some of the best (and funniest) idioms from all parts of Europe. Don’t be an ass and don’t be a chicken! Aping these funny animal phrases will give you something to crow about.


To go with the pigs
Ir com os porcos
To die

A Portuguese does not simply “die”, he “goes off with the pigs” (Ir com os porcos). Would he have passed away because he was “clumsy,” or better said, because he “looked like a silly cockroach” (Barata tonta) – we don’t know. But you shouldn’t ask if you don’t want to be told to “piss off” or to “go away and comb monkeys.” (Vai pentear macacos). Our advice? Better “give-up” and “take the little horse away from the rain” (Tirar o cavalinho da chuva).

To be done to the beef
Estar feito ao bife.
To have a problem

To feed the donkey sponge cake
Alimentar um burro a pão-de-ló
To give good treatment to someone who doesn’t need it

Having spent many years turning chickens.
São muitos anos a virar frangos.
To be experienced.

To have little monkeys inside your head.
Ter macaquinhos na cabeça.
To have strange ideas.

Flea behind the ear.
Pulga atrás da orelha.
To look/feel suspicious.

He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat
Quem não tem cão caça com gato
To do something with the resources you have.

Pay the duck
Pagar o pato
To take the blame for something you did not do.

Priests, cousins and pigeons. The first two are not good to marry. The last two only make the house dirty.
Padres, primos e pombos. Os dois primeiros, não servem para casar. Os dois últimos só servem para sujar a casa
Portuguese proverb

A dog that has been bitten by a snake fears sausages
Cachorro mordido por cobra tem medo de linguiça
Once bitten, twice shy


To be in the age of the turkey
Estar en la edad del pavo
To be a teenager

Turkeys are awkward animals, just as Spanish teenagers who must pass through an awkward age – “the age of turkey” (La edad del pavo). It’s true young people have it hard to see anything at all in their future – they do “not see three in a donkey” (No ver tres en un burro) so to say. ’cause in Spain, we don’t “tie the dogs with sausages”(no se atan los perros con longanizas), that is to say to spend money or time without prior consideration. 

The catfish is pecking me.
Me pica el bagre.
To be really hungry.

To be like a goat.
Estar como una cabra
To be out of your mind

To be sleeping with the monkey
Estar durmiendo con la mona
To be drunk

Like an octopus in a garage
Como un pulpo en un garaje
To feel lost or confused

Little dog of all weddings
El perrito de todas las bodas
A very social person

When frogs grow hair.
Cuando las ranas críen pelo.
When pigs fly.

Leave one in the horns of the bull.
Dejar a uno en los cuernos, del toro.
To put somebody down at something.

Looking for the cat in the garbanzal (a place used for chickpeas).
Buscar el gato en el garbanzal.
To try to do something very difficult.

To fall off the donkey.
Caerse del burro.
To fall from high

France – Belgium – Luxembourg

To give a rabbit
Poser un lapin
To stand someone up

It’s like giving jam to pigs!” (C’est donner de la confiture aux cochons) Not only do the French not trust the pigs with the homemade confiture, they can also accuse someone of “eating like a pig” (manger comme un cochon). When the French stand someone up at a rendezvous, they are “giving a rabbit” (poser un lapin). Why did they not show up? Maybe because they were “sleeping like marmots” (dormir comme une marmotte).

Ducky cold
Faire un froid de canard
When it’s really cold

Jump from the rooster to the donkey
Passer du coq à l’âne
Jump from one topic to another

To do a fishtail
Faire une queue de poisson
To overtake and cut in close in front of a car

To call a cat a cat
Appeler un chat un chat
To call something by what it is

To have the cockroach
Avoir le cafard
To be down in the dumps

To drown the fish
Noyer le poisson
To bamboozle somebody.

To have a spider on the ceiling
Avoir une araignée au plafond
To have bats in the belfry

The cow!
La vache !
my god!

Speak of the wolf and you see its tail
Quand on parle du loup on en voit la queue
Speak of the devil and he appears

When chickens have teeth
Quand les poules auront des dents
To freeze over but rather for the day

A cat in your throat
Un chat dans la gorge
A frog in your throat

To give your tongue to the cat
Donner sa langue au chat
To give up

As bored as a dead rat
S’ennuyer comme un rat mort
To be very bored

It’s raining like a pissing cow
Il pleut comme vache qui pisse
It’s raining a lot

Sell the bear’s skin before it’s been killed
Vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué
To count chickens before they’ve hatched

There is an eel under the rock
Il y a une anguille sous roche
Once bitten, twice shy

To swallow grass snakes
Avaler des couleuvres
To be so insulted that you’re not able to reply.

To look at each other like earthenware dogs
Se regarder en chiens de faïence
To look at each other coldly, with distrust


Not enough to fill a cat’s nostril
Ekki upp í nös á ketti
To not have enough of something

Cats are pretty small, their nostrils therefore even smaller. It’s then logical that something of insufficient amount in Iceland is “not enough to fill a cat’s nostril” (Ekki upp í nös á ketti). Sounds strange to you? You may then have the perfect occasion to say “there are so many wonders in a cow’s head!” (Það eru margar undur í höfuðkúpu). Because you’re not the kind of persons who “buy the cat in the sack” (Kaupa köttinn í sekknum) that is to say, who buy something without verifying its content.

To put yourself on your high horse
að setja sig á háan hest
To behave in a condescending manner

To make a camel out of a mosquito
Gera úlfalda úr mýflugu
To over-exagerate

Neither fish nor fowl
hvorki fugl né fiskur
Something not easily categorized

To place someone before the nose of a cat
koma einhverjum fyrir kattarnef
To murder someone

I only pay available sheep
Ég borga bara með reiðufé
Okay, but I don’t have to like it.


He who lies down with dogs, gets up with fleas
An té a luíonn le madaí, eiroidh sé le dearnaid.
If you mix with the wrong company, you’ll pay for it

Rest assured that the Irish are down-to-earth people. They will warn you that if you “dress a goat in silk, it still remains a goat” (Cuir síoda ar ghabhar ach is gabhar i gcónaí é). They will also beware of people “who lies down with dogs and get up with fleas” (An té a luíonn le madaí, eiroidh sé le dearnaid). Who can blame them? They may be right! Similarly, they will also point out that if children are bad, it’s their parents to blame: don’t we say “a bad egg, a bad bird” (Drochubh, drochéan) after all?

Far away cows have long horns
Bíonn adharca fada ar na ba thar lear
Far away hills are greener

Nobody can make a racehorse out of a donkey
Ní dhéanfadh an saol capall rása d’asal
You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

A raggy colt often made a powerful horse
Is minic a rinne bromach gioblach capall
Children metamorphose with adulthood

What would the son of the cat do but kill mice
‘Cad a dhéanfadh mac an chait, ach luch a mharú
Like father, like son

Food is the horse for work
‘Sí capall na hoibre an bia
One cannot work without food

The short dog is fierce in the door of his own house
Is teann é an madadh gearr ag doras a thí fhéin
A terrier is a force at his own door

If you hit my dog, you hit me
Má bhuaileann tú mo mhadra, buailfidh tú mé féin
Do not attack my belongings

May the cat eat you, and may the devil eat the cat!
Go n-ithe an cat thú, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!
A curse

United Kingdom

That really gets my goat
To make someone angry or annoyed

Hold your horses! as the Brits say, or if you prefer, wait a minute! Do Her Majesty’s subjects really say that “it gets their goat” when they are making someone angry? It seems so! We must admit: this idiomatic expression is genuinely excellent – or to say it as the locals do, it’s “the dog’s bullocks“, or “the cat’s pyjamas” or even “the bees knees“. We don’t want to create a whole new set of problems or “open a can of worms” but isn’t it forbidden in the United Kingdom to loose your temper?

Whale of a time
To have a great time

To quit cold turkey
To abruptly cease using a substance dependence

The elephant in the room
A problem too big to ignore, but that everyone tries to avoid

One-trick pony
A person has only one ability

The lion’s share
The biggest part or portion

Hold your horses!
Wait a minute!

A stupid or stubborn person

To weasel out of something
To be sneaky

To let the cat out of the bag
To reveal a secret

To go to the dogs
To go bad, to deteriorate

Let sleeping dogs lie
To avoid talking about things in the past that might cause problems

Wild goose chase
To go after something that you are not likely to get

To watch something like a hawk
To watch extremely carefully

Like a fish out of water
To feel very uncomfortable in a particular situation

A red herring
A piece of information that draws attention away from the real facts

Ants in your pants
To be very agitated

The world is your oyster
To have many good opportunities ahead

Get your ducks in a row
To organise things

Mad as a march hare
To be crazy

When the chickens come home to roost
When consequences are felt

Throw a cat among the pigeons
To cause troubles


To swallow some camels
Å svelge noen kameler
To chose to ignore something, often to keep the peace

Ah! Our Norwegian friends! They are so positive and cheerful – they are “happy salmons” (En glad laks) so to say! Their temper even enable them to “swallow some camels” for us (Å svelge noen kameler) – this is when they chose to ignore something, often to keep the peace. Because they wouldn’t want to find themselves in a situation where they “have a hen to pluck with someone” (Jeg har en høne å plukke med noen) that is to say having a grievance that needs to be talked out. “Clichés” I hear you say?

To call the moose
Å rope på elgen
To throw up

Don’t judge the dog on its hairs
Man skal ikke skue hunden på hårene
Don’t judge a book by its cover

There are owls in the moss
Der er ugler i mosen
Something is off or not quite right

Buy the cat in a bag
Kjøpe katta i sekken
To buy something without looking at it properly

The matter is beef
Saken er biff
To settle a matter


To do a frog
Göra en groda
To make an embarrassing mistake

There’s no cow on the ice” (Det är ingen ko på isen) in Sweden, or in other words: there’s no need to worry. Even if you make an embarrassing mistake, dance strangely to respect traditions or “Do a frog” (Göra en groda), only God knows about it or in this particular case, “the cat knows” (Det vete katten). As long as you “howl with the wolves” (Tjuta med vargarna) and agree with the majority, you can rest assured you are covered!

To throw a goat’s eye at it
Att kasta ett getöga
To have a quick glance at something

To slide in on a shrimp sandwich
Att glida in på en räkmacka
Someone who didn’t have to work to get where they are

To have an unplucked goose with someone
Ha en gås oplockad med någon
To have an unfinished business with someone

You shouldn’t judge a dog by its fur
Man ska inte döma hunden efter håren
To judge a book by its cover

To sense owls in the marsh
Ana ugglor i mossen
To have suspicion that everything is not quite alright

Everyone knows the ape, but the ape knows nobody
Alla känner apan, apan känner ingen
To be worried of being known for strange behaviour

The wheel is still spinning but the hamster is dead
Hjulet snurrar men hamstern är död
To be daft

Don’t buy the pig in the bag
Köp inte grisen i säcken
To buy something without closely checking the product

You shouldn’t wake a bear that’s sleeping
Man ska inte väcka den björn som sover
To not reawaken old, half-forgotten arguments or grudges

To tear dog
att slita hund
To work your fingers to the bone

It knows the birds!
Det vete fåglarna!
Not to have the foggiest idea!

A turkey film
En kalkonfilm
A third-rate film

To be an ugly fish
Att vara en ful fisk
To be a nasty piece of work

To have a chicken memory
Att ha ett hönsminne
To have a memory like a sieve

To put ants in the head at some wolves
Att sätta myror i huvudet på någon vargatider
To give someone food for thought

A wolf winter
En vargavinter
A harsh winter

To not have all the hens at home
Att ha alla hönsen hemma
To be stupid

Now the boiled pork is fried
Nu är det kokta fläsket stekt
Now things are really, really bad


To be like a bear shot in the ass
Olla kuin perseeseen ammuttu karhu
To be pissed off

Our Finnish friends don’t like to think we could possibly portray them wearing “Rabbit pants” (Jänishousu) – they associate it with being coward. This tends to piss them off, which for them, is the same as being “like a bear shot in the ass” (Olla kuin perseeseen ammuttu karhu). So let’s avoid overcomplicate things and “shoot flies with a cannon” (Ampua tykillä kärpäsiä): without further ado, we now build “a bridge for the donkey” (Aasinsilta) to go from one topic to another. From one country to the next.

To have a foxtail under your armpits
Olla ketunhäntä kainalossa
To have ulterior motives

To end like the flight of a chicken
Loppua kuin kananlento
To end something quickly and unsuccessfully

To lift the cat up onto the table
Nostaa kissa pöydälle
To inspect something closely

To make a bull out of a fly
Tehdä kärpäsestä härkänen
To over-exagerate

To leave like a goldeneye from the birdhouse
Lähteä kuin telkkä pöntöstä
To leave fast

To be on a rabbit’s back
Olla jäniksen selässä
To describe a matter that is not urgent

To have a face like a bird of prey’s arse
Naama kuin petolinnut perse
To be ugly

Let me show you where the chicken pees from
Näytän sulle, mistä kana pissii
Let me show you how it’s done

Your own cow is in the ditch
Oma lehmä ojassa
Someone has an ulterior selfish motive behind an action


It’s blowing half a pelican
Det blæser en halv pelican
It’s really windy

Denmark is a windy country. But not enough to scare birds: even very strong, the wind wouldn’t “blow half a pelican” (Det blæser en halv pelican). This is all for the best, as we wouldn’t want bad weather to “go in goat” (Gå i ged) that is to say to make a mess of things or even “go completely to fish” (Gå helt i fisk) – which would be completely wrong. All fine then, we calm down, we “just pat the horse” (Klap lige hesten), take it easy and move on.

A red prawn
En rød reje
A skint

To stand like herring in a barrel
Stå som sild i en tønde
To feel a bit squashed

To pass the monkey on
At sende aben videre
To pass on a problem to someone else

You’ve really shot the parrot
Du har virkeligt skudt papegøjen
You’ve been lucky

Is it the horse’s birthday?
Er det hestens fødselsdag?
To cut slices of rugbrød too thick

There is no cow on the ice
Der er ingen ko på isen
There is no problem

A toad in the throat
En tudse i halsen
To feel a need to clear your throat

To have a bear on
Have en bjørn på
To be tipsy/drunk

To see the giraffe
Se giraffen
To see somebody famous or important (to you)

To make a feather into five hens
En lille fjer kan blive til fem høns
To over-exagerate

To swallow a camel
Sluge en kamel
To accept something you don’t like

To have rats on the attic
Have rotter på loftet
To be crazy

A dog after something
En hund efter noget
A sucker for something

Summer birds in the stomach
Sommerfugle i maven
To be nervous and/or excited

Just pat the horse
Klap lige hesten
To calm down and take it easy

To crawl in a mousehole
Krybe i et musehul
To be embarrassed

So is that goat shaved
Så er den ged barberet
The work is done/the problem is solved

Netherlands – Belgium

As naked as a poodle
To splash about in the bath

Ever heard of the naked run of Roskilde? All contestants there compete “as naked as a poodle” (Poedelnaakt). They run as fast as they can, tackling the job good and proper – or “washing a pig” (Het varkentje eens wassen) as they also say in the Netherlands. Don’t expect the winner to get rich – this is no competition to become a “sheep on dry land” (Schaapjes op het droge). But the reward may be enough to make the winner “as stoned as a shrimp” (Stoned als een garnaal). In a pure Dutch tradition, so to say. 

Dog’s weather
Bad weather

A monkey sandwich story
Een broodjeaapverhaal
An urban legend

To take the hare’s path
Het hazenpad kiezen

Be as bald as nits
Zo kaal als de neten
To be bald

Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve!
Daar komt de aap uit de mouw!
Now is the moment of truth!

You can’t pluck feathers from a bald hen
Van een kale kip kan je geen veren plukken
You can’t get blood out of a stone

To be healthy as a fish
Zo gezond als een vis
To be healthy

Butter with the fish
Boter bij de vis
To pay for goods and services straight away

A man and a half and a horse’s head
Anderhalve man en een paardenkop
A sprinkling of people

This is no cat’s piss
Dat is geen kattenpis
It is a serious/important thing

To pay someone with monkey money
Iemand met apenmunt betalen
To fool someone with nice words

Purple crocodile
Paarse krokodil
Exaggerated bureaucracy

Many pigs make the slops sparse
Veel varkens maken de spoeling dun
Too many cooks spoil the broth

Germany – Austria – Switzerland

To have a tomcat
Ein Kater haben
To have a hangover

Berlin: “that’s where the bear dances” (Da steppt der Bär) or if you prefer, that’s where great parties take place. Some say it’s a “Monkey theatre” (Affentheater) criticising outrageous behaviour of party-people in the capital. Others will support that Berliner are a bit crazy and “have a bird” (Einen Vogel haben). But many will feel lucky for being there and “have the pig” of their life (Schwein haben) – that’s until the party is over and they end up with a hangover, or “a tomcat” (ein Kater).

To buy a cat in a sack
Die Katze im Sack kaufen
To buy something without inspecting it first

To swallow a toad
Eine Krote schluken
To make a concession grudingly

Well known as a colourful dog
Bekannt wie ein bunter Hund
Somebody’s well known

To make the goat the gardener
Den Bock zum Gärtner gemacht
To leave someone stupid in charge of an important matter

Where the hare and the fox say goodnight
Wo sich Hase und Fuchs gute Nacht sagen
In the middle of nowhere

Like a cow standing before a new gate
Wie die Kuh vorm neuen Tor dastehen
Confused, much like someone faced with a new situation

There’s the rabbit in the pepper!
Da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer!
That’s where the problem lies!

To bring a sheep into the dry
Eine Schäfchen ins Trockene bringen
To take advantage of your position

Under all pig
Unter aller Sau
Something beneath contempt

To tie a bear to someone
Jemandem einen Bären aufbinden
To deceive someone into accepting something false

Life is no pony farm
Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof
Life is not easy

Bird eat or die
Vogel friss oder stirb
A do or die situation

The fish starts stinking from the head
Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her
Problems always start at the top

That’s where the dog’s buried
Da liegt der Hund begraben
That’s the heart of the matter

Who knows why the geese go barefoot
Wer weiß, warum die Gänse barfuß gehen
That’s just the way it is

Like a watered poodle
Wie ein begossener Pudel

It takes effort for the squirrel to feed itself
Mühsam ernährt sich das Eichhörnchen
Slowly but surely; it is possible to reach your goal


In the mouth of the wolf!
In bocca al lupo!
Good luck!

The Italians are said to be superstitious. You’ll often hear them say “In the mouth of the wolf!” (In bocca al lupo!) to wish you good luck – and depending on how close you are to them, they might even say: “In the ass of the whale!” (In culo alla balena!). Yes, they are superstitious lads, but also quite pious: making a big mistake in Italy is as bad as “confusing Saint Anthony with the pig” (Scambiare Sant’Antonio con il maiale). You really have to be a “silly goose” (Oca giuliva) to do such felony!

A rabbit
Un coniglio
A coward.

An owl
Una civetta
A flirt

To be drunk as a monkey
Ubriaco come una scimmia
To be (very) drunk

To treat someone with fishes in the face
Trattare a pesci in faccia
To treat someone disrespectfully

To run after the butterflies
Correre dietro alle farfalle
To waste time or chase an unachievable goal

To save goat and cabbage
Salvare capra e cavoli
To resolve a situation without having to compromise

We’re at the horse
Siamo a cavallo
We’ve nearly made it

Are you a tree cricket or an ant?
Sei una cicada o una formica?
Are you lazy or a hard-worker

Those who act like sheep get eaten by the wolf
Chi pecora si fa, il lupo se la mangia
To stand up for yourself and your opinions

To make someone see green rats
Far vedere I sorci Verdi
To crush someone with a humiliating defeat

Lucky as a dog in a church
Fortunato come un cane in chiesa
To be unlucky

To be a white fly
Essere una mosca bianca
To be different from all the others

Mirror for the larks
Specchietto per le allodole
A lure, a false attraction

Do not look into the mouth of a horse when you receive a gift
A caval donato non si guarda in bocca
Do not question a gift

There is no tripe for cats
Non c’e’ trippa per gatti
There is absolutely no hope that you’ll get what you want

Tell it to dogs and pigs
Dirlo ai cani e porci
To broadcast something

I know my [own] chickens
Conosco i miei polli
To behave in a predictable way

Crickets around the head
Non avere grilli per la testa
To not have strange ideas or habits

An old hen makes good stock
Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo
Experience is absolutely necessary

To spit or swallow the toad
Sputare o ingoiare il rospo
To spit it out

To put a flea in someone’s ear
Mi ha messo la pulce nell’orecchio
To make someone think about something

The wolf sheds its hair but not its vice
Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio
A person’s character will not change


To pat a snake with bare feet
Dráždit hada bosou nohou
To walk into the lion’s den

A little bird, but also “the golden fly whispered to me” (Zlatá muška mi pošeptala) that you may consider walking into a lion’s den. But would you go as far as to “pat a snake with bare feet” (Dráždit hada bosou nohou)? The Czechs do! They draw bravery from their hard work, as the expression goes: “baked pigeons don’t fly into their mouth” (Pečení holubi nelítají do huby). This is mainly due to them not passively “sitting like a pigeon on a dome” (Sedět jako holub na báni).

To have a monkey
Mám opici
To have a hangover

To get up with the chickens
Vstávat se slepicemi
To get up at the crack of dawn

To kill two flies with one hit
Zabít dvě mouchy jednou ranou
To kill two birds with one stone

To buy a hare in a sack
Kupovat zajíce v pytli
To buy something without checking the quality first

To cast pearls before swine
Házet perly sviním
To try to educate someone uneducated

To go for something like a hen after a gob
Jít po něčem jako slepice za flusem
To go after something immediately, without hesitation

To look for a goat gate
Hledat kozí vrátka
To apologize for one’s imminent departure

Beetle in the head
Brouk v hlavě
To come to an end

It will not be my scapegoat
To nebude můj obětní beránek
To deny involvement or responsibility

A fish rots from its head
Ryba smrdí od hlavy
If something is wrong, chances are it started with the government or leaders

To go shooting sparrows with a cannon
Jít s kanónem na vrabce
To use significantly excessive force to carry out an action


He went on a dog’s thirties
Vyšiel na psí tridsiatok
To experience financial difficulties

You may not be very familiar with Slovak wisdom – so you may be confused to hear that “who has been bitten by a snake is afraid even of a worm” (Koho raz had uštipne, aj hlísty sa bojí) or, in other words, once bitten, twice shy. If you experience financial difficulties, you can say that you “went on a dog’s thirties” (Vyšiel na psí tridsiatok). You may as well lament that “it is a pity what the wolf eats” (I z čítaného vlk berie) and it would be to says that what a person tries to keep back through meanness is just as likely to be wasted anyway.

If you want to live with wolves you have to howl with them
Ak chceš s vlkmi žiť, musíš s nimi vyť
To conform by the norm of a group

Fresh as fish
Čerstvý ako rybička
To be brand new

A crow is sitting by crow, an equal is looking for another equal
Vrana k vrane sadá, rovný rovného si hľadá
Similar people tend to spend time with each other

Do not look at teeth of gifted horse
Darovanému koňovi na zuby nepozeraj
To not criticise gifts

Better sparrow in the hand than pigeon on the roof
Lepší vrabec v hrsti ako holub na streche
Something you have for certain now is of more value than something better you may get later

It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest
Mrcha vták, čo do vlastného hniezda nečistí
Don’t speak ill off yourself

Big fish eat little fish
Veľké ryby žerú malé
Powerful men devour the small men

The ox has forgotten that he had been a calf, too
Zabudol vôl, že teľaťom bol
To criticise someone else for a fault that you have yourself


To turn someone into a horse
Zrobić kogoś w konia
To cheat or deliberately mislead a person

Is it because of their language? Or their weird traditions? Poles can sometimes drive us crazy, or “get us a cat” (Dostać kota). They can as well “turn us into a horse” (Zrobić kogoś w konia) which is to deliberately mislead a person. But it’s maybe because, together, we “live like a cat with a dog” (Jak pies z kotem) and actually get along well with them. But by the time you realise it, it’s too late, “it’s after the birds” (Już po ptakach).

To have flies up your nose
Mieć muchy w nosie
To be really irritated and sulky

To divide the skin on the bear
Dzielić skórę na niedźwiedziu
To get prematurely excited about something that might not work out

To feel like a beaten dog
Czuć się jak zbity pies
To be absolutely exhausted

To have a snake in the pocket
Ma węża w kieszeni
A tight-fisted person

To scribble like a chicken with a claw
Bazgrze jak kura pazurem
A terrible handwriting

To turn the cat around by its tail
Odwracać kota ogonem
To present facts in a false or distorted light

To hang dogs on someone
Wieszać na kimś psy
To slander someone’s reputation

To eat a horse with hooves
Mógłby zjeść konia z kopytami
Very hungry

A white raven
Biały kruk
A very rare book

This goes together like an ox and a carriage
Pasować jak wół do karety
A terrible match

The horse would have laughed
Koń by się uśmiał
A reaction to something that doesn’t make sense

The Turkey was thinking about Sunday, but they chopped his head on Saturday
Indyk myślał o niedzieli, a w sobotę łeb mu ścięli
Do not focus too much on the future

Did an elephant stomp on your ear?
Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?
You have no ear for music

Not my circus, not my monkeys
Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy
Not my problem

You can steal horses with him/her
Można z nim/nią konie kraść
This is a good, trustworthy person

He did me a bear’s service
Wyświadczył mi niedźwiedzią przysługę
A favour which ends up being more trouble than it was worth

Don’t call a wolf out of the woods
Nie wywołuj wilka z lasu
To invoke an outcome that is not wished for


To count the crows
Varnas skaičiuoti
To start daydreaming

The beauty of Lithuania is an invitation to poesy. The country is called The Land of the Storks after all. In Vilnius, you may find yourself “counting the crows” (Varnas skaičiuoti) – that is to say, daydreaming. Some will find it pointless “like a fifth leg for a dog” (Kaip šuniui penkta koja). But “dog also adapts to being hanged” (Šuo ir kariamas pripranta): you can get used to anything. As long as you don’t “show the goats” (Rodyti ožius) and be stubborn, you’ll always be welcome in the country!

To be drunk as a bee
To be very drunk

Instead of the black horse
Už juodą arklį
To work hard

Cat patting leads to hump raising
Katė glostoma kuprą kelią
To display too much affection or desperation which repels your friends

The bear is in the forest, but the sting is already being cut
Meška girioje, o skūrą jau rėžia
Don’t sell the skin till you have caught the bear


To blow little ducks
Pūst pīlītes
To talk nonsense or to lie

You think that Latvians are some kind of weirdos? Don’t talk nonsense, or as they say there “blow little ducks” (Pūst pīlītes)! In Latvia, “a crow will not pick out the eyes of another crow” (Vārna vārnai acī neknābj) – people are calm and harmless. You’ll have to wait for a long time before meeting a mean Latvian – it might even never happen or only “when an owl’s tail blooms” (Kad pūcei aste ziedēs)…

A trip to the polar bears
Ceļojums pie baltajiem lāčiem
To be exiled to Siberia

That which is inside a teddy bear’s belly
Kas lācītim vēderā
The inner workings of something

To try to catch two bunnies at once will end up in not catching any
Divus zaķus reizē ķerdams nevienu nenoķersi
You must not run after two hares at the same time

The bird that does not love its own nest is silly
Dumjš tas putns, kam sava ligzda nav mīļa
Don’t speak ill off yourself and the groups you belong to

Like a dog on a haystack
Suns uz siena kaudzes
Gentleness achieves more than violence


To play badger
Mäkra mängima
To cause trouble

In Estonia, where winters are “cold like in a wolf’s barn” (Külm kui hundilaut), you shall eat well and heartily if you want to survive the season and become “strong like a bear cub” (Kange nagu karupoeg). Now, it is obvious and “clear even to the hedgehog” (Siililegi selge) that you shall “drink like a calf ” as well (Jooma nagu vasikas) that is to say an enormous quantity of liquid. And if you don’t “play badger” (Mäkra mängima) and cause trouble, you’ll pass winter without a hitch!

To make an elephant out of a gnat
Sääsest elevanti tegema
To over-exagerate

Cat concert
Unbearably bad singing; a very loud and unpleasant sound

At the speed of a monkey
Very fast

An old fish
Vana kala
Someone with a lot of experience

To lie like an old white horse
Valetab nagu vana valge hobune
To be a big liar

Like a goat between two haystacks
Nagu kits kahe heinakuhja vahel
A person who can’t choose between two (equal) opportunities

Like a little bird on a branch
Nagu linnuke oksa peal
Free of any worries or troubles

Like water on the back of a goose
Nagu hane selga vesi
Without any effect whatsoever

Blood took the woodpecker’s son up the tree
Veri viis rähnipoja puu otsa
You can’t ignore where you come from

Before that the rabbit will sneeze three times
Enne aevastab jänes kolm korda


To eat a dog on something
Cобаку съесть на чём-либо (Cobaku sʺestʹ na čëm-libo)
To gain experience and acquire skills

Don’t panic! In Belarus nobody eats dogs, we promise. They say they “eat a dog on something” (Cобаку съесть на чём-либо – Cobaku sʺestʹ na čëm-libo) bu it’s to describe someone who is gaining experience and acquiring skills in a certain activity. If you are more a cat‘s person, don’t also take literally the phrase “cats are scratching on my soul” (Кошки на душе скребут –Koški na duše skrebut): it means – in a very poetic way – to feel sad or anxious!

To toil like a horse
Пахать как лошадь (Pahatʹ kak lošadʹ)
To work hard

Shorter than a sparrow’s nose
Короче воробьиного носа (Koroche vorob’inogo nosa)
Extremely small; of short duration

Let’s return to our sheep
Вернёмся к нашим баранам (Vernëmsja k našim baranam)
Let’s get back to what we were saying

You won’t get around it on a crooked goat
На кривой козе не объедешь (Na krivoj koze ne obʺedešʹ)
It’s difficult to approach someone

The chickens aren’t pecking the money
Денег куры не клюют (Deneg kury ne kljujut)
A lot of money

The wolf is fed by the legs
Волка ноги кормят (Volka nogi kormjat)
To make efforts to get anything done


To plant a pig on someone
Підсунути свиню (Pidsunuty svynyu)
To do a vile thing to someone

Don’t mess up with Ukrainians or they will “plant a pig on you” (Підсунути свиню –Pidsunuty svynyu) that is to say, do a vile thing. This only to teach you a lesson, or in other words, to “show you where the crayfish is wintering” (Показати де раки зимують – Pokazaty de raky zymuyutʹ). Now you can’t say that you were not warned! Next time you’re in Kiev, think about what you’re saying as “a word is not a sparrow…” (Слово не горобець… – Slovo ne horobetsʹ…)

To talk about the wolf
Про вовка промовка (Pro vovka pomovka)
When someone you have been talking about suddenly appears

To eat a dog at something
Собаку з’їсти (so-bA-ku zjIs-ty)
To be a dab hand at something

A white crow
Біла ворона (Bila vorona)
Someone who stands out of a group

Mute as a fish
Німий як риба (Nimyy yak ryba)
A reserved, uncommunicative person

As calm as a boa
Спокійний як удав (spo-kIj-nyj jak u-dAv)
As cool as a cucumber

Like a cat cried
Як кіт наплакав (jak kit na-pLA-kav)
A drop in the ocean

Kill two hares with one shot
Вбити двох зайців одним пострілом (vbY-ty dvokh zaj-tsiv od-nym po-stri-lom)
Kill two birds with one stone

Romania – Moldova

To stare like a calf at a new gate
A se uita ca vițelul la poarta nouă
To be confused

There are so many ways to get confused in Romania, just “like the calf staring at a new gate” (A se uita ca vițelul la poarta nouă) or the “cat looking in the calendar” (A se uita ca mâța-n calendar). But fear not, one day, you’ll feel brave enough, get to the bottom of things and manage to “break the cat in half” (A rupe pisica-n două). Just be patient, that may as well be “at the horses’ Easter” (La Pastele cailor) that is to say in a very far future.

To cut leaves for the dogs
A tăia frunză la câini
To be lazy, to waste time

To walk around with the painted crow
Umbli cu cioara vopsita
To try to fool someone

To turn a mosquito into a stallion
A face din tantar armasar
To over-exagerate

To cross like the goose through the water
A trece ca gasca prin apa
To learn nothing from an experience

To walk the bear
A plimba ursul
To go away, to leave one alone

To make it of sheep
Ai făcut-o de oaie
To mess up, to make a blunder

To have parrot
A avea papagal
To talk much, in a convincing and persuasive way

To feel with the fly on the cap
A se simți cu musca pe căciulă
To feel guilty

To stare like the crow at the bone
Ca cioara la ciolan
To be confused

To keep quiet like the pig in a corn field
Tace ca porcu-n păpușoi
To keep quiet

To be caught with the cat in the bag
A fi prins cu mata-n sac
To be caught red handed

To leap like a frog into the concrete
Se arunca ca broasca-n beton
To jump the gun

Like a donkey in the mist
Ca magarul in ceata
To disappear when you’re most needed

The TV has fleas!
Televizorul are purici
There’s static on the TV

The cat won’t drink vinegar anymore
Nu mai bea mâța oțet
Someone tricked once will be very careful next time around

The gentle cat scratches badly
Mâța blândă zgârie rău
Seemingly inoffensive people not hesitating to take a stand if someone crosses the line


As happy as a monkey about his tail
Örül, mint majom a farkának
Very happy; jumping for joy

Did you know that Hungary was full of monkeys? Figuratively we mean… Whenever they are very happy, Hungarians say they are “as happy as a monkey about his tail” (Örül, mint majom a farkának). When they don’t know what’s coming next, they whisper: “the monkey will now jump in the water” (Most ugrik a majom a vízbe). And that’s not it: Hungarians can also “monkey” (majomkodik) sometimes. It means to act unnaturally or to fool around.

A cat oops
A hangover

A bird
Someone who is easy to deceive, a fool

To have a piglet
Malaca van
To get lucky

To tie the dog to the post
Köti az ebet a karóhoz
To stick to your position

To make an elephant out of a flea
Bolhából elefántot csinál kif
To over-exagerate

May the goose kick it
A niech to gęś kopnie
Screw it, to hell with it

You can’t make bacon out of a dog
Kutyaból nem lesz szalonna
A leopard can’t change its spots

It is below the bottom/ass of a frog
A béka feneke/segge alatt van
The quality of something is very bad

As rare as the white raven
Ritka, mint a fehér holló
Extremely rare

Even a blind chicken finds one grain
Vak tyúk is talál szemet
Anyone might get a great result

The owl tells the sparrow that it has a big head
Bagoly mondja verébnek, hogy nagyfejű
To judge someone for their faults while ignoring the same fault in yourself

A lying man is caught faster than a limping dog
A hazug embert hamarabb utolérik, mint a sánta kutyát
A liar will be caught very fast

A dog’s broken bone will soon be healed
Ebcsont beforr
To heal rapidly

One is a dog, the other is a hound
Egyik kutya, másik eb
The two things are the same

If it’s a goose, it should be fat
Ha lúd, legyen kövér
To experience something to the fullest.

Why are you giving drinks to the mice?
Miért itatod az egereket?
Why are you crying? (Usually said to little children)

The magpie wants a lot, but its tail can’t carry it all
Sokat akar a szarka, de nem bírja a farka
To try to do more than you are capable of

Horse dick!


To go whistling to the crab
Iti rakom žvižgat
To die, to fall through, to decay

You never die in Slovenia – you simply “go whistling to the crab” (Iti rakom žvižgat). The Slovenes’ longevity may be due to their carefree lives as they tend “to live like a birdie on a branch” (Živeti kot ptiček na veji). Promise: we are not over-exagerating it and “making an elephant from a fly” (Narediti iz muhe slona). We know our stuff and what a purpose of speaking is – or as Slovenes say, we “know where a dog puts its paw in” (Vedeti kam pes taco moli).

To lie as a dog runs
Lagati kot pes teče
To lie often, without any restraints

To grin like a roast cat
Režati se kot pečen maček
To laugh very much

To go to sleep with chickens
Hoditi spat s kurami
To go to bed early

To feel like a fish out of water
Počutiti se kot riba na suhem
To feel uncomfortable

To be like a dog and cat
Biti kot pes in mačka
To hate each other, to argue

To be on a horse
Biti na konju
To achieve a goal

To call the reindeers
Kličemo jelene
To throw up

To have a cat
Imam mačka
To have a hangover

To have a tiger
Imam tigra
To have a very bad hangover

To sleep like a rabbit
Spati kot zajec
To sleep lightly

To be on the dog
On je na psu
To be broke

Roosters breakfast
Petelinji zajtrk
Morning sex

Let the mother hen kick you
Naj te koklja brcne
Go to hell!


To sing like an elephant farted in your ear
Pjevaš kao da ti je slon prdnuo u uho
To have no musical ability at all

Ever heard a Croatian song? Us neither. But do not think it’s because Croatians have no musical ability at all and “sing like an elephant farted in their ear” (Pjevaš kao da ti je slon prdnuo u uho). No, it’s just because it’s an impossible quest to find a nice song – just like searching for “the balls of a swan” (Muda labudova). Are we clichés? Probably! But it’s not a good reason to be so angry at us and wanting “to beat us like an ox in a cabbage field” (Prebit ću te k’o vola u kupusu).

To look like a calf staring at a colored door
Gleda kao tele u šarena vrata
To look completely baffled

The crows have drunk his brain
Vrane su mu popile mozak
He is crazy

The owl mocked the tit
Rugala se sova sjenici
Out of sight, out of mind

The hills shook, a mouse was born
Tresla se brda, rodio se miš
To poke fun at someone who is making a big deal out of nothing

Old hen, good soup
Stara koka, dobra juha
An older woman might have more appeal

The pussycat will come to the tiny door
Doće maca na vratanca
What goes around comes around

A wolf changes his coat but not his attitude
Vuk dlaku mijenja ali ćud nikada
You don’t fundamentally change throughout your life

Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro – Kosovo

To make a donkey out of a mosquito
Praviti od komarca magarca
To over-exagerate

In the Balkans, you shall better “trust yourself and your horse!” (Uzdaj se u se i u svoje kljuse!) – believe us, you’ll need trust to navigate the Serbian, Montenegrin, Bosnian and Kosovar societies. Some locals you’ll meet may indeed try to “make a donkey out of a mosquito” (Praviti od komarca magarca) to impress you. But you are not so gullible and definitely not “like a fly without a head” (Kao muha bez glave), that is to say a stupid frenzy without a plan…

To be a real workhorse
Raditi kao konj
To work very hard

To sing like a nightingale
Pevati kao slavuj
To sing beautifully

To fight like cats and dogs
Živeti kao pas i mačka
To quarrel constantly

The first kittens are always thrown into the water
Prvi mačići se bacaju u vodu
To justify first mistakes, the bad beginning


To kill all the flies that come around you
Ai i vrau gjithë mizat që i vinin rrotull
To not make a clear choice about something

If you are not familiar with Albanian sayings yet, these will make you shine in society! If you are hesitant and can’t make a clear decision about something, simply say that you are “killing all the flies that come around you” (Ai i vrau gjithë mizat që i vinin rrotull). Are you suspicious? say that “there is no forest without pigs” (Nuk ka pyll pa derra) – it’s much better than ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’. Something very hard to believe? It’s “a cock and bull story” (Përralle me mbret)!

Mention the dog, get the stick ready
Përmend qenin, bëj gati shkopin
To be ready for consequences

If you have a bird in your hand, hold it.
E ke zogun në dorë, mbaje
Don’t let your opportunities go away

To have the memory of the elephant
Të kesh kujtesën e elefantit
To have a good memory

To sleep like a lamb
Të flesh si një qengj
To sleep deeply

To shed crocodile tears
Qan me lot krokodili
To pretend you feel sad

Bulgaria – North Macedonia

A hungry bear doesn’t dance
Гладна мечка, хоро не играе (Gladna mechka horo ne igrae)
Nothing is for free

Nothing is for free in Bulgaria! Do not expect anything from a person if you don’t give them something in return – that’s why “a hungry bear doesn’t dance” (Гладна мечка, хоро не играе – Gladna mechka horo ne igrae)! Oh, and if someone is “reading the horse gospel” for you (Чета конско евангелие –Da chetesh konsko evangelie), he is most likely scolding you for doing something wrong. Does it worry you? Or in other words, are you “deep in thought like a fat pig before Christmas” (Умислил се като свиня по коледа – Umislil se kato svinja po koleda). You should!

To try to beat a bear with a stick
Взел клечка да бие мечка (Vzel klečka da bie mečka)
To be unprepared

To eat like a bear but work like a bug
Яде като мечка, работи като буболечка (Jade kato mečka, raboti kato bubolečka)
To be lazy

To make an elephant out of a fly
От мухата прави слон (Ot muhata pravi slon)
To over-exagerate

They are sticking to him like flies on honey
Лепят му се като мухи на мед (Lepjat mu se kato muhi na med)
To be a playboy

Where the crabs go hibernating
Къде зимуват раците (Kŭde zimuvat ratsite)
To teach someone a lesson

In a cuckoo summer
На куково лято (Na kukovo ljato)
When pigs fly

A white elephant
бял слон (byal slon)
A burdensome possession that creates more trouble than it is worth

Every frog should know its puddle
Всека жаба да си знае гьола (Vseka žaba da si znae gьola)
To know your place

The frog saw that the ox was getting metal hooves, so she lifted her foot, too
Видяла жабата, че коват вола и тя вдигнала крак (Vidjala žabata, če podkovavat konja i tja vdignala krak)
To tell someone who is out of place

Greece – Cyprus

To do the duck
κάνει τη πάπια (káni ti pápia)
To not mention something in order to avoid being blamed for it

It is a special art and know-how to be pretending in Greece and on the Island of love. For instance, you “do the duck” (κάνει τη πάπια – káni ti pápia) when you avoid mentioning something so as not to be blamed for it. You also “act like a dead bug” (Κανε τον ψοφιο κοριο – Kane ton psofio korio) when you pretend nothing happened. And you play the “innocent pigeon” (Αθώα περιστερά – Athoa peristera) when you claim to be innocent… See? Pretending as never been as easy as in Greek!

To carry owls to Athens
γλαῦκας εἰς Ἀθήνας κομίζειν (glafkas eis Athínas komízein)
To do something that is useless or not needed

To swat flies
βαρἀει μὐγες (varaei myges)
To do nothing

To shit one’s donkey
θα σου χέσω το γάιδαρο (tha sou chéso to gáidaro)
A threat when you’re really angry with someone

A black and spidery day
μαύρη μέρα κι άραχνη (mávri méra ki árakhni)
To have a bad day

A cat with horseshoes
Γάτα με πέταλα (Gáta me pétala)
A very capable and skillful man

Neither cat nor damage
Ούτε γάτα ούτε ζημιά (Oúte gáta oúte zimiá)
Something bad which happened but without importance

The camel doesn’t see his own hump
Η καμήλα δε βλέπει την καμπούρα της (I kamíla de vlépei tin kampoúra tis)
To point out other people’s faults but failing to see ours.

The donkey calling the rooster big headed
Είπε ο γάιδαρος τον πετεινό κεφάλα (Eípe o gáidaros ton peteinó kefála)
The pot calling the kettle black

Turkey – Cyprus

What does a donkey know about compote?
Eşek hoşaftan ne anlar?
To offer something valuable to someone who is unaware of its value

Turks are not famous for their existentialism – but they do surprise us with their fundamental question: “what does a donkey know about compote?” (Eşek hoşaftan ne anlar?). Think twice before offering something valuable to someone who is completely unaware of its value. They also go through difficult or unpleasant situations by “scaring the horses with fragile cups” (Fincancı katırlarını ürkütmek). Do these idioms drive you crazy and make you “lose the goats” (Keçileri Kaçırmak) as for us?

To be crawling with ants
To have pins and needles

To make a camel out of a flea
Pireyi deve yapmak
To over-exagerate

To catch a bird with the mouth
Ağızla kuş tutmak
To not tolerate the acts of someone even if he does miracles

To catch a mouse ever since becoming a cat
Kedi olalı bir fare tutmak
To finally be able to do something significant

Like a giraffe in winter
Zemheri zürafası gibi
To wear thin clothes during winter

Fish fleshed
Balık etli
A curvy person

The broth of the rabbit
Tavşanın suyunun suyu
The distance between two points

A hungry dog will break through a bakery
Aç köpek fırın deler
A starving person can do impossible things

A sunken fish goes sideways
Battı balık yan gider
The worst-case scenario has already happened

When the fish climbs the tree
Balık kavağa çıkınca

The one’s whose guide is a crow can not take out his nose from shit
Kılavuzu karga olanın burnu boktan çıkmaz.
Blind leading the blind

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