WOTD: the “birds and the bees” and other animal-related phrases

The jury is still out on whether or not a bee is an animal. (It’s an insect.) Anyway, we all know what the phrase “birds and the bees” means, right? Well, it’s sex apparently. It’s a way for adults to talk to children about sex without having to speak openly and technically about the subject. The “bees” fly around the “pollinate” the “flowers”, you see. Therefore, to be told about the “birds and bees” is to be told in so many words (at least if you’re a girl) that you shouldn’t let any “bees” into your “flower” otherwise you might get “pollinated.” (wink wink nudge nudge) I never got that speech, though. Instead my mother got out the anatomy book and showed my brother and me diagrams and descriptions of the male and female reproductive systems.

(By the way, where do the “birds” fit into all of this?)

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play.” It means that when no one in authority is present, the subordinates will do as they please. Parents and teachers of small children are undoubtedly familiar with this phenomenon. You turn your back for about a minute and return to what must have been a frantic mad rush to see how much damage they could cause in your absence.

When something is described as a “dog and pony show” then it’s probably an elaborately staged event or performance designed to sell you something.  The phrase originated with the small traveling circuses that toured the small towns of rural America, which often featured performing dogs and ponies as their main attractions. TV commercials are a modern-day version of them. A lot of production value goes into getting you to buy the newest variety of deodorant.

It’s hard to choose a horse-related idiom that really speaks to me. Mainly because most people just don’t ride or keep horses like they used to. I do like the phrase, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!” just because it’s so weird and offensive. So you’re a bit pissed off at the chap riding the horse, but what in the world did the horse do to you? All he did was carry the bastard. According to the Urban Dictionary it’s an insult that can be lobbed at a person of authority, since presumably this person is on their “high horse” (another horse-related idiom) and needs to be put in their place.

There are literally thousands more animal-related phrases, but I think I’ve made my point. Brevity is the soul of wit.

5 thoughts on “WOTD: the “birds and the bees” and other animal-related phrases

  1. “Well fuck you and the horse you rode in on! I said we never should have taught them about the birds and the bees, because when the cats were away the mice definitely played, and put on one hell of a dog and pony show It’s on Youtube for goodness sakes!”

  2. Um … technically both birds and bees ARE animals, and apparently I’m still carrying around the useless remains of five years of studying biology at school. If you like you can curse Carolus Linnaeus (as I do!) – he deserves it.


  3. Birds are…well, birds. I suppose they can be considered animals. And bees are insects, not animals.

    Well, whatever. I don’t claim to be an expert.

    (Post edited to reflect this.)

  4. As a rule of thumb if it moves around under its own steam it’s an animal, if it doesn’t it’s a plant and everybody (apart from professional biologists) ignores the awkward things which don’t fit happily into either category. Well, I do anyway.

    • If you hang upside down from trees then you’re probably channelling the Great Sloth Spirit, but otherwise you’re just lazy!

      Actually the word seems to have become a victim of the practice of taxonomy, and digging around in dictionaries shows that Gwen’s right in that in a non-scientific context it’s used to distinguish mammals from the rest of the animal kingdom. At what point, in that case, did I start seeing it as a purely scientific term, and why?

      Dear God, I’m a pedant! 😦

Words, words, glorious words! Give me all of your words!

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