An Analysis of English Animal Idioms icon

An Analysis of English Animal Idioms

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^ 2.7 Theoretical Evaluation

The main aim of this thesis was to compile as much English animal idioms as possible and to provide other students of the English language with a useful handbook of English animal idioms, their definitions and possible Czech equivalents or translations. After compiling the idioms, the next step was to provide statistical data about the position of these idioms in the sentence and about their stylistic usage. In addition, I have added information about specific regional usage and variations if there were any.

I wanted to supply information about the origins of all the idioms, but I have soon found out that this was not possible. One reason to support this statement is that there is not enough information about the origin of a phrase in the dictionaries and the second reason is that for a learner of English, knowledge of the idiom itself, its meaning and a situation in which it can be used is more important than knowledge of its origins. Moreover, “the origin of many [phrases and idioms] is certainly unknown to the majority of Englishmen” (Whitehead, page 5 in the preface).

I focused primarily on providing information about five aspects of idiomatic expressions. All of these aspects are written down in the Table 1 and Table 2. They are as follows:

  • formal structure of an idiom and its possible variations

  • definition of meaning of an idiom (this aspect is essential especially when the meaning of an idiom cannot be guessed from the meaning of the individual words)

  • Czech translation or explanation (to provide a learner of English with possible Czech equivalents)

  • information on the part-of-speech aspect (this is important to know where to put an idiom within the sentence)

  • stylistic usage labels (this is an essential aspect, because it is necessary for a speaker or writer to know, in what situation it is possible to use an idiom and in what situation it is inadmissible)

In the last column of the Table 1 and Table 2, I offer information about potential regional variations, i.e. whether an idiom is preferably used in the Great Britain, the United States or Australia. However, I do not consider this aspect essential for a learner of English, so I did not make any statistics out of it, since I believe that a particular idiom used mainly in one part of the anglophone world is known in other parts as well.

In all, I have compiled 401 different English animal idioms. I hope it is enough for my statistical research.

The first statistics focuses on the idiomatic classes of the idioms (Table 3). There are two main classes, the one being sentential idioms and the second one are non-sentential idioms, which are divided further into three sub-groups. These are noun phrases, adjectival phrases and adverbial phrases. I have singled sayings out of this class division. Obviously, sayings and proverbs are sentential idioms in their nature, but I have decided to sort them out for their special status within the language.

Table 3 shows the results of the distribution of all the animal idioms across the idiomatic classes. The total number of notes on idiomatic classes is 427. The discrepancy is because of the fact that some of the idioms contain two animals or animals vary in that idiom, so they were counted twice. As it was suggested by LGWSE and by Hana Boháčová in her thesis, verbal idioms are more frequent than others are. This was proved in my thesis as well. Out of all 427 notes on idiomatic classes, 166 were verbal idioms, which is almost thirty-nine percent. Noun phrases were very frequent as well, the total number of them being 134 (more than thirty-one percent). Other groups were represented by smaller percentages (up to ten percent).

The second statistics shows the frequency of the idioms across the styles (Table 4). There is a discrepancy in total numbers of idioms and their stylistic usage. The number of stylistic labels of idioms is 445, which results from the two-animal idioms and from the fact that in some idioms, there was more than one label. It is because of different kinds of labels. For example to be the cat’s whiskers was labelled as informal and ironic at once. This says about the idiom that it is used in speech rather than in writing and is used when one does not think someone really is better than someone else is.

I distinguished among fourteen different stylistic labels as I found them in the dictionaries: archaic, colloquial, derogatory, disapproving, figurative, humorous, impolite, informal, ironic, literary, neutral, old-fashioned, slang and taboo. The most frequent was neutral style, 230 idiomatic expressions representing fifty-two percent. The next very frequent label was informal style, 121 instances out of all 445. Other numbers are in comparison with these two quite insignificant (from thirty-four instances to one).


The thesis was written as a handbook or a mini-dictionary of English idioms involving animals for learners of English. All idioms, counting 401 different idiomatic expressions, were found in both printed and online dictionaries and books on idioms, monolingual and bilingual, British- and American-English based, which are all listed in the last section of the thesis.

The thesis proved what was stated in previous works on idioms, that is that most idioms are verbal in nature, by the statistics in Table 3. Almost thirty-nine percent of all the idioms listed are verbal.

Another statistical research was done in Table 4, concerning stylistic usage of idioms. The two most frequent labels were neutral (more than fifty-one percent) and informal (twenty-seven percent).

To conclude, I hope the thesis will be a useful source of information about idioms for other students of the English language, since idioms are an inseparable part of language and since they should be learned to use them naturally in the speech and writing.


^ 4.1 Works Cited

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S. and E. Finegan. (1999). Longman

Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.

Boháčová, Hana. dis. (2005). An Analysis of English Idioms Involving the Parts of the

Body. Brno: Masaryk University. Manuscript.

Bolinger, Dwight Le Merton. (1981). ^ Aspects of Language. New York: Harcourt

Brace Jovanovich.

Genzel, Rhona B. (1991). Getting Hang of Idioms and Expressions. New York:

Maxwell Macmillan.

Hornby, Albert Sydney. (1995). Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current

English. 5th ed. Oxford:  OUP.

Long, Thomas Hill, ed. (1979). Longman Dictionary of English Idioms. London:


Makkai, Adam. (1987). ^ A Dictionary of American Idioms. 2nd ed. Chicago: Barron’s.

Palmer, Frank. (1976). Semantics. Cambridge: CUP.

Seidl, Jennifer and W. McMordie. (1988). English Idioms and How to Use Them. 5th

ed. New York: OUP.

Whitehead, J. S. (1937). ^ Everyday English Phrases: Their Idiomatic Meanings and

Origins. London: Longmans, Green.

Whitford, Harold C. and Robert James Dixson. (1953). Handbook of American Idioms

and Idiomatic Usage. New York: Regents Publishing.

4.2 Sources

Cambridge Dictionaries Online. <>. April 24, 2006.

Kroulík, Břetislav and Barbora Kroulíková, eds. (1993). English-Czech Dictionary of

Idioms. Praha: Svoboda – Libertas.

Kvetko, Pavol. (1991). Anglicko-slovenský frazeologický slovník. 2nd ed. Bratislava:

Slovenské pedagogické nakladateľstvo.

Macmillan English Dictionary Online. <>.

April 24, 2006.

Oxford Idioms: Dictionary for Learners of English. Oxford: OUP. 2001.

Gove, Philip Babcock. (1993). Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the

English Language, Unabridged. Cologne: Kőneman.

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