IDIOMATIC ENGLISH (4): ANIMAL IDIOMS



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IDIOMATIC ENGLISH (4): ANIMAL IDIOMS



M r. P r i e st 1e y: A sentence in lesson 20 about Florence Nightingale as a child nursing animals, "cats and dogs and horses", and the remark about "rats and mice" - not to men­ tion nightingales and eagles - led me to thinking how many idioms there are in English that are drawn from animal life. For example, when we do two things at one and the same time we "kill two birds with one stone", or, if we are greedy and foolish, we "kill the goose that lays the golden eggs". A bad­ tempered person is "like a bear with a sore head", an awkward, heavy-footed person is "like a bull in a china shop". But let us leave the foolish person, or the bad person, "the black sheep", the man who has "gone to the dogs"...

H o b: I once went to the "dogs"1with Uncle Albert.

M r. P ri e s t 1e y: Yes, some people do "go to the dogs" by going to "the dogs". As I was saying, let's leave the foolish person and consider the wise man. He never "counts his chick­ ens before they are hatched" or "buys a pig in a poke"2- he always examines carefully what he is buying before he pays his money. He will always, of course, do things in the right order and not try to "put the cart before the horse" . He will leave alone things that might cause trouble; as he would say, "let sleeping dogs lie"; nor will he waste good things on peole who can't appreciate them; he doesn't believe in "casting pearls before swines4". There are some people who always take safety measures when it is too late and "lock the stable door after the horse is stolen". That, he considers, is as foolish as putting the cart before the horse. When bold decisive measures are neces­ sary he takes them and "takes the bull by the horns", and when an ill-tempered, sharp-tongued friend says something unplea­ sant, he doesn't worry too much, he knows "his bark is worse than his bite". If he knows a secret, he keeps it; he is not one to "let the cat out of the bag". He is full of sound common

 

1 "the dogs" = dog-racing.

2 poke = bag (a word no longer used with this meaning except in this phrase).

3 cast=throw

4 swines is an old word for pigs.


sense, "horse sense" he calls it, and he doesn't believe in ma­ king changes while a job is in progress; that would be "chang­ ing horses in midstream" - a risky business. He knows, too, that there are some things you can't force people to do. As he would say, "you can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make it drink". And he would, of course, be too generous­ hearted to "look a gift horse in the mouth". He's a cheerful, hard-working fellow, "works like a horse" . He hopes he will always be like that and "die in harness". He isn't proud, "ri­ ding the high horse", and is always willing to help others in difficulty, "putting his shoulder to the wheel" or "helping lame dogs over stiles".

He pities the poor fellow who has "never had a dog's chance" and "leads a dog's life'', perhaps because misfortune always "dogged his footsteps".

01a f: Oh, yes, the policeman always "dogs"1the criminal in the crime stories.

M r. P r i e s t 1e y: Yes, and the criminal tries to "throw him off the scent", perhaps by "drawing a red herring across the track", and the poor policeman goes on dogging him until he is "dog tired".

Our hero and his wife get on very well together; they don't lead a "cat and dog life". She, of course, never makes "catty"2 remarks, nor will she fuss "like a cat on hot bricks" if he goes out when it is "raining cats and dogs". She doesn't worry too much; she knows that "care killed a cat". She has her indepen­ dence of mind, too, and knows that the humblest have their rights even in the presence of the greatest. As she says, "a cat may look at a king".

Our wise man isn't easily deceived, for when you try to trick him with a cock-and-bull story he, like his dog, "smells a rat". He's careful what company he keeps. "Birds of a feather flock together", he says, and he mixes with people of his own kind, not with "queer fish ". With them he'd feel "like a fish out of water".

He's making a success in life, too. Ifyou give him a difficult job to do you'll find you've "backed3 a winner". Three or four other men tried for a job he's doing but they were just "also

 

1 to dog = follow closely behind, as a dog does.

2 catty = spiteful.

3 to back = to put a bet on. The idioms in this paragraph are, of course, taken from horse-racing.


rans"; he "left them at the post". Iknow that for a fact, Igot it "straight from the horse's mouth"; from a man who had entrusted him with a big job.

But I'd better stop or you'll think Iam "riding my horse to death".

 

PAI>OTA C fJIAf OJIOM (17): pull

BoT rrpMMepbI MCIIOJib30Bamrn rnarona pull:

Iwent to the dentist to have a tooth pulled out.

They are going to pull that building down (or: pull down that building).

The man has been very ill but Ithink he will pull round

(= get better).

The child ran in front of the car andIhad to pull up (= stop) quickly to avoid an accident.

The boy pulled a face when he took the unpleasant-tasting medicine.

Take the car a little further along the street; you will find a place to pull in there.

 

IDIOMATIC ENGLISH (5): colour idioms

We have numerous "colour" idioms in the language. Here are some grouped under the various colours:

red

When Ihear of cruelty to animals it makes me see red

(= become violently angry).

Icaught the thief red-handed (= in the very act).

You are not answering my question. You are trying to draw a red herring across the track (= lead the attention away from the real point).

As soon as he led the conversation round to borrowing money

Isaw the red light ( = was aware of approaching danger).

On boat-race night the College students paint the town red

(= have a gay, high-spirited, noisy time).

The mention of that man's name to him is like a red rag to a bull (= something that causes violent anger).

pink

His behaviour was the pink of peifection (= perfect).

"How are you?" Oh, I'm in the pink" (= very well). (slang) He looks at life through rose-coloured spectacles (= opti-

mistically, seeing everything in a pleasant light).


Blue

He was blue in the face with cold.

I'm feeling rather blue (in the blues) today (= rather mise­ rable, "down in the mouth").

He got his blue for football. (At Oxford or Cambridge a man who has been chosen to represent his University at football, rowing, cricket, etc., is given his "colours", light blue for Cam­ bridge, dark blue for Oxford).

He spends all his time reading blue books ( = Government publications).

A thing like that only happens once in a blue moon (= very rarely). You can talk till all is blue ( = as long as you like) but I shan't believe you.

The news was a great shock to me: it came absolutely out of the blue ( = was quite unexpected).

Green

Ihope you live to a green old age ( = age full of youthful strength).

He's very green ( = easily deceived). (slang) She was green with jealousy ( = very jealous).

White

Jan's factory 1 is an absolute white elephant ( = something valuable but useless, of which the owner would be glad to be free2).

Though I believe in telling the truth I think a white lie

(= a lie told for a good purpose) is sometimes justified.

He boasted a lot about his courage but when danger came he showed the white feather ( = was a coward).

Many attempts have been made to whitewash the man's reputation ( = to make it appear good and honourable) but the fact remains that he is a rogue.

Black

I won't believe it unless I see it in black and white ( = in writing).

After the fight one of the boxers had a black eye.

You can never believe what he says; he will swear black is white if it suits his purpose.

 

1 For Jan's factory see Essential English, Book III, Lesson 37.

2 It is said that the King of Siam used to give a white elephant to courtiers that the wanted to ruin.


If Hob doesn't work harder he will get in Mr. Priestley's

black books ( = out of favour).

England's wealth was built up on diamonds - black dia­ monds ( = coal).

He got many black looks ( = looks of displeasure) for his speech criticising the Government.

The men tried to persuade the blacklegs not to work while they were on strike ( = men who are not in a trade union and who work while their fellow workers are on strike).

They are rather ashamed of George; he is the black sheep of the family ( = person with a bad character).

Y nP A >K HE HHSI

I. 06'M1cnuTe CJ1e)Q'I0111ne BbipIDKenIDI:

1. to go to the dogs. 2. the black sheep of the family. 3. to put the cart before the horse. 4. to lock the stable door after the horse is stolen. 6. to take the bull by the horns 6. to let the cat out the bag. 7. to die in harness. 8. his bark is worse than his bite. 9. to ride the high horse. 10. a cat and dog life. 11. a cat on hot bricks. 12. a bull in a china shop. 13. to smell a rat.

14. a fish out of water. 15. an "also ran". 16. straight from the horse's mouth. 17. raining cats and dogs. 18. a red herring.

19. misfortune dogged his footsteps. 20. a cock-and-bull story.

II. Ilo'leMY ue CJie,!1,yeT:

1. Count your chickens before they are hatched. 2. Kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. 3. Buy a pig in a poke. 4. Cast pearls before swines. 5. Change horses in midstream. 6. Look a gift horse in the mouth?

III. IloqeMY, no-BameMy, cJie,!l,yeT:

1. Let sleeping dogs lie.

2. Put your shoulder to the wheel?

IV. 3aKOH'IHTe Bh CKa3b1Baum1 u 06M1cnuTe ux 3Ha'leHnB:

1. "You can lead (take) a horse to the water..."

2. "Help a lame dog..."

3. "Birds of a feather..."

V. IlpH,!1,yMaiITe mecTh npe,!l,JIO}Keuuii, ucnoJib3YB cl>pa3eoJiomqecKHe o6opOTblc fJiafOJIOM pull.

VI.IlpH,!1,yMaiiTe npe,!l,Jlo}KeHIDI u OO'hHCHHTe ux CMh CJI:

to see red; red-handed; a red herring; a red rag to a bull; rose-coloured spectacles; in the blues; once in a blue moon; out of the blue; a green old age; a white elephant; a white lie;


to show the white feather; to whitewash; to be in someone's black books; to give black looks; a black-leg; to blackmail.



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