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Jack McCall: Animal sayings the darndest things

Jack McCall • Updated Sep 22, 2018 at 4:30 PM

Webster’s defines the word, saying, as a “proverbial expression.” In the span of my lifetime, I have heard and used many proverbial expressions related to the animal world. Many of them will be lost to the past as small, family farms slowly disappear, and fewer and fewer children grow up interacting with animal life. Here are some of my favorites.

“He (or she) stinks like a billy goat.” My maternal grandfather, Will Herod Brim, who went by the nickname, “John Reuben,” had a large herd of goats. His goats were nothing like the goats we see today. They were of the old, white variety – tough as nails – and they would eat anything that grew out of the ground. They would eat the bark off a tree.

My grandfather called them down every two or three weeks to salt them. I can see him now as he allowed the salt to pour out of the sack onto the big, flat rocks that lay just in front of the chicken house. As the goats briskly licked up the salt, he would check the herd. Sometimes, as the goats were coming down out of the hollow, you could smell them before they arrived. Any country boy or girl knows why. The big billys had long beards. You can take it from there.

“He’s as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” That one kind of speaks for itself.

 “Don’t kick a dead horse.” A few years back, I came upon one I like even better. “If the horse is dead, get off.” That one could be applied to multiple situations.

“Slick as a snake.” This one might be called a misnomer. Once, when I was gathering eggs as a boy, I reached in the nest and grabbed a big chicken snake instead of an egg. The snake did not feel slick. Some things you never forget. After that day, I always looked before I reached. 

“Meaner than a junkyard dog.” I have seen a few junkyard dogs in my time. And they were all mean or appeared to be so.

“This place looks like a pig sty. This phrase is often used by people who have never seen a pig sty. I have seen some pig sties – in more shapes and conditions that you might imagine. Throw in the smell, and most people have no idea what a pig sty is really like. 

“Don’t eat like a pig.” Since I’m on the subject of pigs, I thought I would throw in another. My late mother was big on table manners. “Don’t chew your food with your mouth open,” she would admonish. Growing up, I had a friend who chewed his food with his mouth open. He ate like a pig.

“As stubborn as a mule.” I have ridden a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon many times. Out there, the wranglers informed me you can teach a horse to respond on command. In other words, a trained horse would jump off a cliff to its death if trained to do so. Not a mule. A mule cannot be trained to do itself harm. A mule will not go against its instincts. Hence, the saying, “stubborn as a mule.”

“A wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Sometimes we must beware. Things are not always as they seem. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was a master at turning a phrase, once referred to Neville Chamberlin, a pacifist who preceded Churchill as prime minister, as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” 

“As gentle a lamb.” I had an orphan lamb once. There is nothing as gentle in the animal world. After a week of caring for it, I came to appreciate the line in the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” – “And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go.” That lamb met me at the door every morning and followed me around all day long.

And, finally, here’s one to consider. I’ve heard it said two ways. “That cooked his goose.” or “He got his goose cooked.” I was never exactly sure what it meant, but I was convinced it couldn’t be good.

Jack McCall is an author and also writes a weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat.

 

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