In the Darwinian dog-eat-dog workplace, certain situations naturally call for colorful metaphors that feature animals — everything from a tiny fly to the enormous elephant. Ironically, man’s best friend, the dog, is the most maligned of all the animals referenced in these idioms. Here are some animal idioms that are commonly used during business meetings and around water coolers.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: having something for certain is better than the possibility of getting something better
A cuckoo in the nest: a problem that grows quickly and crowds out everything else; a person that is part of the group but is different and often disliked
A dead duck: a failure
A dog and pony show: a presentation to get people to support a project or secure a contract for goods or services
A fly in the ointment: someone or something that spoils a situation that could have been successful or pleasant, or reduces the value of something
A pig in a poke (or “buy a pig in a poke”): a deal or offer that is foolishly accepted without being examined first.
A pig in a python: a sharp statistical increase, represented as a bulge, in an otherwise level pattern
Albatross around one’s neck: a past action that causes a person problems and stops them from being successful
Barking up the wrong tree: to make the wrong choice or ask the wrong person
Bird’s eye view: a consideration of a problem or situation from a comprehensive perspective
Boiling frog syndrome: a company that fails to recognize gradual market change
Dog eat dog: people will do anything to succeed, even if it harms other people
The early bird catches the worm: the person who arrives first has the best chance for success
Elephant in the room: an issue which everyone in a meeting knows is a problem, but no one wants to mention
Let the cat out of the bag: to disclose a secret
Let sleeping dogs lie: to leave something alone if it might cause trouble
Like a fish out of water: to be uncomfortable in a particular situation
Lipstick on a pig: an attempt to put a favorable spin on a negative story or situation
Moose on the table: an issue which everyone in a meeting knows is a problem, but no one wants to address
Pigs might fly (or when pigs fly): the unlikeliness of something happening or to mock a person’s credulity
Prairie dogging: popping one’s head above an office cubicle to spy on colleagues
Red herring: a deliberate misleading and diverting of attention from the real issue
Seagull manager: a manager who files in, makes a lot of noise, shits over everything, and then leaves
Shoot the puppy: to do something ruthless, but necessary
Something is fishy: something is suspicious
To cry wolf: to raise a false alarm about something
To have bigger fish to fry: to have more important things to accomplish
To kill two birds with one stone: to solve two problems at once
To open a can of worms: to do something that exposes a very difficult issue or problem
To put the cart before the horse: To do things in the wrong order
To screw the pooch: to make a serious mistake
White elephant: a burdensome possession that creates more trouble than it is worth
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink: you can give a person an opportunity but cannot force them to take it
Read related posts: What is a Collocation?
What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?
For further reading: The Wonder of Whiffling and Other Extraordinary Words in the English Language by Adam Jacot de Boinod (2009)