Are You a Pig, Owl, Beaver, or Clam?

owl-845131_1920Animals and people have a lot in common, if language is any indicator (something that shows the current state or level of something). We compare people to animals all the time, whether it’s because of their appearance (how they look), personality traits (characteristics), or behavior.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common expressions we use to talk about people’s personalities.

If someone is stubborn (not willing to change their attitude or opinion), they can be called “pigheaded.” We can also say that they’re “as stubborn as a mule” (an animal born to a female horse and a male donkey).

Intelligent people are sometimes described as being “as wise as an owl” (a large bird with round eyes and the ability to turn its head almost in a full circle and is awake at night). And you might hear people say “an elephant never forgets,” referring to a general belief that elephants have long memories (the ability to remember things for a long period of time). (Elephants are very large animals with a long nose called a “trunk.”)

Lions are generally thought to be brave (courageous, not scared of things). But a chicken is someone who is afraid to do something. The phrase “to chicken out” means to change one’s mind and decide not to do something because one is too scared.

Someone who is very enthusiastic (wanting to do something and looking forward to it) about doing something, especially work, can be described as an eager beaver (a rodent-like animal with a large, flat tail that uses its teeth to cut down trees and use them to block rivers to create ponds).

Someone who is nervous, shy, quiet, and lacking (being without) an interesting personality may be called “mousy.” Similarly, shy people are sometimes described as being “as quiet as a mouse.”

Someone who has a lot to say but suddenly stops talking is said to “clam up,” because a clam is a sea animal that lives between two round shells that can close like the lips of a person who doesn’t want to speak.

Finally, people who “eat like a bird” eat very little. The phrase “to pig out” means to eat a lot of something, and people who “eat like a horse” eat a lot of food.

~ ESLPod Team

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* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 729. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.
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6 Responses to Are You a Pig, Owl, Beaver, or Clam?

  1. Peter says:

    Well , reading the latest Lucy’s post this morning, I realized that I never stoped and appreciate over-10-year Lucy ‘s dialogs that in fact was the drive that pulled us all here three times a week for -boy ,a very very long time.
    Eslpod shut down the audio lessons for good ,yet Lucy’s dialogs live on. I still read through them like I used to.

    Man ,there is a certain air of nostalgia about them.

    Reading through Lucy ‘s post today ,I realized I never stopped to thank Lucy for all the dialogs that helped me familiar myself to the ways of the land.
    Thanks Lucy for all you have done for us.
    Ur dialogs and beautiful ,strong American accent.

    Guess what ,listening to you ,my lousy accent has significantly improved
    Well , I have been trying all these years to mimic ur way of talk.

    U have always been my personal hero Lucy
    Thanks for always being there for me.

    I learned a great deal
    In fact
    If sometimes it happens that someone wonders
    How I got that far given the time of my stay here

    My response is always
    ” Well, what can I say,
    I m made in eslpod ”


  2. Mary Carmen says:


    In Spanish, being a donkey is to be ignorant or uninteligent, what to my view is quite unfair. Close to the extinction nowadays these animals used as beast of burden, usually bore much more load that could stand.

    Poor donkeys! I emphatize with them.


  3. Peter says:

    As for all the animal related expressions u lined up there for our benefits I must say there are tons of more out there

    In all fairness ,you addressed the most popular ones ,i think

    Well, there is a sh.t load of relevant expression with ” fox and cat
    A good cat nap

    U know what i have always find fascinating is animal expressions are totally skewed
    I mean one animal gets a lot of attention and another ,at the same time ,is totally left out

    I mean
    The big question-to me -at least is “who decides?”

    I means who decides which expressions assign to which animal

    Seriously ,who decides ?
    Any insight ?

  4. Tania says:


    Nice topic. In my language we talk with little children in this way.
    Are you a little pig, little mouse, or little dog?
    No, a little boy. All these words rhyme and it’s very funny for kids.
    To me it’s a pleasure to invent new words with rhyme just for a smile
    of a kid.

    A sincere smile to you all,


  5. Tania says:


    In my country, many mothers call their little children “chicken”, as they
    are so fragile, are afraid to do something.
    I like this word like a caress .

  6. Tania says:


    Dear Emiliano, thank you for your nice words to me.
    I’ll try to write more, but I do not know when.

    Much health to you and Cuca.


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