There’s a mouse in your muscle! | Sunday Observer

There’s a mouse in your muscle!

11 April, 2021

Animals lurk everywhere in the English language. There are many phrases, expressions, idioms and proverbs involving animals. Does it mean that English is an animal-friendly language? It seems to be so.

I still use a dog-eared Oxford Dictionary. Most of its pages are turned down at the edges. When people are competing against each other to get what they want, I see a dog eat dog world out there.

When the Yahapalana regime was calling the shots, people said the country had gone to the dogs. However much we boast of civilisation, there are dishonest people in society. Nobody knows how to get rid of such dirty dogs. If you are married to a nagging wife, you are bound to lead a dog’s life.

When I attended a party many moons ago, a super-rich woman came dressed like a dog’s dinner. Some people say the Opposition will not have a dog’s chance in the forthcoming election. When my plans go haywire, I console myself because every dog has his day. When you have a lot of money and power, you may behave like a dog with two tails. If you are dog-tired now, relax.

When I am tired in the afternoon, I take a cat-nap. If you tell someone a secret, especially without intending to, you are letting the cat out of the bag.

If you put the cat among the pigeons, that will lead to a lot of trouble. Sometimes the police play an elaborate game of cat and mouse to trap a criminal.

When the principal walked into our classroom with a cane, we were like a cat on bricks. I heard a minister saying that the Opposition will not have a cat in hell’s chance of being elected.

Cats and dogs

Apart from cats and dogs, many other animals have enriched the English language. Maitripala Sirisena was a dark horse in the Presidential Election, because no one knew or expected him to win.

A lone wolf is someone who does not mix socially with other people. A cold fish is someone who is not very friendly and does not show their feelings. When a new vaccine is invented, it is usually tried on someone who acts as a subject in an experiment. He is called a guinea pig. If you love to attend parties, you are a party animal. Some people love to be a fly on the wall to see an important private or secret event.

We seek the help of animals to describe people’s characters and actions. Sometimes you will note that your boss’s bark is worse than his bite. Some people have a fierce look, but they wouldn’t hurt a fly.

If you get the travel bug, you will have a strong desire to travel. When you do not wish to divulge the name of an informant, you can say, “A little bird told me.”

If you are feeling hungry, make a beeline for the food. Just before an examination, you always get butterflies in your stomach. If you ate too much at a party, you made a real pig of yourself. If you have so much work to finish before a certain event, you are just chasing your tail.

If blackmarketeers are fleecing the public, it really is the law of the jungle. If you open a can of worms, you raise huge problems. If you are trying to solve too many problems and ending up not achieving anything, you are just running round like headless chickens. Now a lot of people do not use snail mail. They send E-mails.

In the buff

If you want to make informal inquiries, you are putting out feelers. When buffalo were abundant in the 19th century, buffalo hide was a popular material for making coats. The yellowish colour of the skin inspired the expression “in the buff” which is an allusion to the similarity of buff leather and human skin tones.

The name buff leather was then applied to other types of soft leather used for polishing metals. When you buff up, you do exercises to make your muscles bigger. If you are in the buff, you are not wearing any clothes!

There are many proverbs involving animals. The proverb “All cats are grey in the dark” suggests that beauty is unimportant. Beneath the outward appearance people are all much alike. If a man utters threats in a loud voice, do not take him seriously because barking dogs seldom bite. We find that the best things in life are hard to come by.

The proverb says, “The best fish swim near the bottom.” The proverb “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” reminds us that it is better to accept something small than to reject it. We always look for people with similar tastes and interests. As they say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Sometimes we meet people who boast of their courage in safe and familiar surroundings. You should remember that, “Every cock crows on his own dunghill.” We often hear that, “Fine feathers make fine birds.”

The peacock with its bright plumage is a beautiful bird. Similarly, smart clothing makes a person look more impressive. The book of proverbs says, “If one sheep leaps over the ditch, all the rest will follow.” It applies to human beings as well because we too have the herd instinct.

You may have heard that the leopard cannot change his spots. Even men cannot change their characters. Do not buy anything without examining it. They say, “Never buy a pig in a poke.”

Most of the dictionaries do not have the word “sommelier” meaning a restaurant employee who oversees the wine cellar and knows which ones best complement which foods. Its origin is not so elegant.

Hands down victory

The Old French word “sommelier” means an officer in charge of provisions and more specifically, a pack-animal driver. “Sommelier” comes from an older word “sommier” meaning a beast of burden. The proverbial expression “As deaf as an adder” means deaf.

Adder is the only venomous snake in Britain. The word is often used as a synonym for a poisonous snake. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the Presidential election hands down. The expression comes from horse-racing.

A hands down victory occurs when a jockey’s win is so assured that he drops his hands and relaxes his grip on the reins when nearing the finish line.

The word “kibitz” means to look on, offer meddlesome advice or make wisecracks. It derives from the German verb “kiebitzen” which means to look on especially in an annoying way while others are playing cards.

The word for this activity comes from the German word “Kiebitz” which is the name of a little bird with a reputation for being noisily imitative.

Have you ever tasted Oolong? It is the strong, dark tea that is grown in China. It has a beastly name because the word derives from the Chinese term “wulong” which literally means black dragon.

Sri Lankans are familiar with the word queue which means a line of people. It comes from the Latin word “cauda” or tail. However, English speakers borrowed “queue” from the French which also means tail.

If you want to see a muscle, clench your fist and make your biceps pop. The ancient Romans referred to a muscle as a “musculus, literally a little mouse. Today ‘mouse’ is a synonym for muscle.

We should be thankful to numerous animals which have enriched the English language.