English Animal Idioms In This English Language Acquisition Listening Practice Ep 459

A photograph of a turkey, a really ugly bird. English idioms are the topic of today's comprehensible input English podcast lesson.

📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 2318 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 12 min

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English Idioms - Cold Turkey And Tail Wagging The Dog

So you’ve decided that listening to the English language is a good way to improve your English language skills. You’re keen to pour the new strange sounds and words into your pristine ready to learn brain. Great! But before you jump in, be mindful of what you are going to listen to. Even though today’s English language learning podcast is a nice and easy idioms topic. There are a lot of more complex things going on as you listen. The lesson is working on your unconscious mind, not just your conscious mind.

Obviously I’m going to suggest you listen to Adept English content. We provide exceptional English acquisition materiel all designed for learning a language through listening. However, being serious, you will also want to include other sources of audio and you need to be careful about what you choose.

I’ve mentioned comprehensible input in previous English lessons. Keep this in mind when you choose to input new English into your brain. Start with a single English speaker, preferably with a transcript you can use to look up any difficult or new vocabulary. I would also suggest you use audio from native English speakers. I’m not talking about accents here I’m talking about speakers for whom English is their first language.

It’s important to get as close to everyday English as possible. Try to find audio that’s just talking. You don’t want a lot of background noise, special effects or music playing, as these all affect your brain’s ability to single out and identify English language. I know people often turn to TV for input, but be careful what you choose, make sure the TV has closed captions and that these are accurate (They usually are full of mistakes!) Choose something that isn’t too distracting (No action films! No TV ads.)

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
⭐ Groucho Marx

I know having pictures can help with providing context to the words you hear. You can sometimes guess what’s being talked about just by looking at the pictures, but it’s important to focus on the audio first, not rely on the images. Rather than guess, look up the words to be sure you understand what you are listening to.

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 3 word phrases:

You Listen To3
To This Podcast2
You Are Learning2
You Might Hear2
Use Their Tails2

Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: English Animal Idioms In This English Language Acquisition Listening Practice

Hi there and a warm welcome to this podcast from Adept English – for English language learners.

We haven’t touched English idioms for a while. But we are here in the UK, still using them all the time! The ones I like best are animals ones – so shall we do a couple more of those today? And do you know, if you listen to this podcast, it’s not just the animal idioms that you’ll learn?

The most important thing when you’re learning English is ‘input’ – what you ‘put in’ to your brain, what you listen to in English, in other words. And every time you listen to a podcast like this one, which is designed to help you improve your English language learning, then you are learning consciously, knowingly – and you are learning unconsciously, unknowingly, automatically.

So it’s not just the idioms you’ll learn, though they’re important. It’s all the other English language that you are absorbing as you’re listening. There are a lot of words in this podcast for your brain to practise on – I’ll tell you how many at the end. So really the podcasts are here ‘to entertain you’, while your brain gets on with unconsciously learning the English language!

So what about a couple of animal idioms today to help that happen? What about ‘The tail wagging the dog’? And what about ‘to go cold turkey’?

The tail wagging the dog

So you might hear the first expression, ‘the tail wagging the dog’, in various forms. You might hear ‘Oh, that’s a case of the tail wagging the dog’. Or ‘I think that the tail is wagging the dog here’. Or ‘Hmm – tail wagging dog, I think’. So it’s often the case with English idioms that there’s a set phrase – which is the case with ‘to go cold turkey’. So that one’s more of a fixed phrase.

Whereas with some English idioms, there can be some variation in exactly how it’s used in the sentence. And ‘tail wagging the dog’ is one of these. So wherever ‘tail’, ‘wagging’ and ‘dog’ or ‘tail’, ‘wag’, ‘dog’ are in proximity – and importantly there’s an absence of an actual dog anywhere to be seen – this may indicate that the phrase is being used as an idiom.

So vocabulary first of all. You probably know what a dog is, DOG. Deputy Dawg, Pluto, Pavlov’s Dogs, Marley & Me, Scooby Doo, 101 Dalmations – dogs are everywhere. You may even have one in your house! And the word ‘tail’, TAIL. Well, on the whole, this something that animals have and we just don’t have them!


A photograph of a dog wagging it's tail at the beach. A dog features in one of today's English idioms.

©️ Adept English 2021

A tail is a part of an animal’s body – and it sticks out from the bottom of the back, the bottom of the spine. Cows use their tails to swish away the flies, monkeys use tails to help climb trees – and squirrels use their tails for balance. Even fish have tails and their tails help them swim. I think perhaps you get the idea here?

So when it comes to dogs, they actually wag their tails for lots of reasons. Usually it’s because they’re excited to see us, they’re happy because they’re going for a walk, or someone is about to put a bowl of food in front of them. Dog’s tails, rather like cat’s tails tell us something about what the animal is thinking or feeling. So of course, dogs wag their tails. ‘To wag’, WAG – just means ‘to move something from side-to-side’. And some dogs have such waggy tails that they even sustain injury to the tail and have to go to the vet.

So what does it mean if we say ‘The tail is wagging the dog’? Well, first of all, this is extremely unlikely in an actual dog, so we’re probably not talking about reality. We’re hearing an idiom. So that’s an expression which has a literal meaning, but we’re using it to express a related idea. So when we say ‘The tail is wagging the dog’ or something similar, we’re commenting that something is the ‘wrong way around’.

The command to action is going from the tail to the dog, not from the dog to the tail. So we would use this idiom to describe a situation where an unimportant part of something or a relatively unimportant part of something was in control, influencing it or making the decisions. So at work, if a junior member of the team was being listened to and their input was influencing all the major business decisions, that would be an example of ‘the tail wagging the dog’.

A small or relatively unimportant part of something, is controlling the whole. So this could be a person – as in ‘My daughter’s need to wear pink clothes meant that we were late for the wedding’. Or it might be an idea, or a viewpoint which is minor, small – but which influences something much bigger. ‘None of the family made it to the beach before 4pm, because their son likes to get up late’. Or ‘The president’s daughter was determining his policies’. That’s the tail wagging the dog!

To go cold turkey

What about the expression ‘to go cold turkey’? Well, vocabulary again – a turkey, TURKEY is a bird. And it’s a bird that you might find on a farm, because we eat turkeys. And the time of year that we eat turkeys? Well, in the UK most are eaten at Christmas and in the US, turkeys are eaten at Thanksgiving. They’re not pretty birds – the turkey is not going to win any beauty contests. So it’s turkey, TURKEY in the singular and it’s turkeys, TURKEYS in the plural.

It’s interesting – it’s an example of both a countable and an uncountable noun. When the birds are alive before they’re eaten, they’re countable – so you can talk about turkeys. But when we’re using them as meat we would talk about turkey as an uncountable noun – a substance. Anyway, why are we talking about ‘going cold turkey’? Why is that a phrase?


Well, this expression is thought by many to be associated with the world of drugs, DRUGS. And I don’t mean drugs from a pharmacy – I mean street drugs, illegal drugs. So ‘cold turkey’ is a reference to the fact that if you are using hard drugs and you stop taking them, you suffer horrible symptoms, and maybe have skin like a turkey in the chiller, with no feathers, ready for cooking. You’ve got ‘goosebumps’ perhaps. But actually, some people think that this is wrong, because the phrase was used from as early as 1910, before these kinds of problems in society were widespread. So the origin may be associated instead with an American idiom – ‘to talk turkey’, or ‘to talk cold turkey’.

It means to talk about the cold, hard facts – not be gentle or soft or obscure anything in the way you talk business. So it’s ‘telling things the tough way’ – that’s ‘talking cold turkey’. But the origin isn’t really clear – it’s one of those where we don’t really know. But its meaning is clear. If you ‘go cold turkey’, it means that you suddenly stop doing something which you’ve been doing a lot of, something you like doing very much or even something you were addicted to. And if you’re ‘addicted to’ something, it means you can’t stop doing it, even when you know it’s doing you harm. So we might talk about ‘going cold turkey’ on a substance or a behaviour that you might be genuinely addicted to – so alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping.

Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript

You might say of someone who stopped smoking ‘He’s gone cold turkey – he just quit cigarettes altogether’. But this expression is also used nowadays, when you’re talking about giving up something that you enjoy – and it’s intended as slightly humorous. The thing that you’re giving up isn’t as serious as a real addiction – but you use the language of addiction to emphasise how much you enjoy this thing. ‘Oh, I’ll have to go cold turkey on those Belgian chocolates because I’ve put on weight!’ Or ‘When we went on holiday and there was no internet, my son had to go cold turkey!’ Or ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to go cold turkey! There’s another series of [whatever you like to watch] coming soon!’

A reminder of the podcast download service – and how many words did you listen to in this podcast?

So there we have it. Two idioms in one podcast for you. And if you really like our podcasts and would like more of them to listen to, then why not invest in our podcast download service? You can buy anything from 50 Adept English podcasts to several 100 Adept English podcasts.

Boost Your Learning With Adept English

As I said at the start, in each podcast you are learning specific words and phrases, but you’re also getting more and more familiar with the words you already understand – so that eventually, you’ll be able to use them when you speak - automatically. So there’s that conscious learning, that learning you know that you’re doing – and there’s also that unconscious learning, the learning that you’re doing automatically.

So I said I’d give an approximate word count – here it is! In this podcast alone, you’ve listened to over 1,500 English words – one thousand five hundred English words! Your unconscious mind has just processed 1,500 English words! Wonderful for your English language learning!


Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.




The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
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