British English Idioms You Can Use Everyday Ep 734

A black sheep wearing dark sunglasses and a bandanna amongst a lot of plain white sheep on a green grassy slope. Speak confidently by learning everyday British idioms.

📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 3696 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 19 min

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How to Speak Like a Brit? You'll Need Some British English Idioms

Do crocodiles really cry? It's not what you think. Our latest English language lesson 🎓 is a treasure trove of British animal idioms that intriguingly mirror those used by the French. A nice relaxed listen & learn way to enrich your English vocabulary and conversation prowess.

Here's why you'll love this lesson:

  • 💬 Learn idiomatic expressions and improve your fluency
  • 🇫🇷 Learn new cultural language connections for French speakers
  • 🎧 Improve your British English comprehension with engaging examples

✔Lesson transcript:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
⭐ Mark Twain

Start listening and you'll discover that languages often mirror each other, making it easier to remember these colourful idiomatic expressions and phrases that appear in everyday conversations.

Plus, it's a fun way to enrich your next conversation much more interesting, a great way to level up your spoken English.

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.
⭐ Aristotle

So if someone asks you if your being an ostrich? You'll stand a fighting chance of understanding what on earth they mean! Learn much more on our website. Join the fun lesson! 🌐 #EnglishIdioms #LearnWithUs

More About This Lesson

A world of English and French animal idioms! It's remarkable just how often we British use idioms. These fun phrases can sometimes be confusing, but in this lesson we'll explain what they mean and show you how to use them. Learning these idioms will help you add some colourful expressions to your English language skills, making your conversations more interesting and engaging.

The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.
⭐ Ayn Rand

In this lesson, you'll gain lots of benefits. You'll learn how English and French share many animal idioms, making it easier to remember them. Plus, you'll discover how these idioms can help you speak British English more fluently and with more confidence.

  1. Learn common idioms to sound fluent.
  2. Discover idioms' meanings through examples.
  3. Understand cultural expressions in English.
  4. Compare English idioms to French ones.
  5. Improve vocabulary with animal words.
  6. Get tips on overcoming language fear.
  7. Realize idioms' emotional expressions.
  8. Learn myths behind some idioms.
  9. Recognize idioms shared across languages.
  10. Practice listening for language mastery.

Engaging with this lesson offers more than just language learning. You'll explore the rich history and interesting facts behind idioms, like the bravery behind 'chicken out' or the truth about 'crocodile tears.' These insights make learning more than just memorization—they connect you with the culture and history of the language.

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are.
⭐ Brené Brown

Ready to make your English conversations more colorful and fun? Join us and improve your English skills with our animal idioms lesson. Follow and subscribe to our podcast for more exciting lessons. Let's dive into the joy of learning English together!


  1. What does "être une poule mouillée" mean, and how is it expressed in English? "Être une poule mouillée" translates literally to "to be a wet chicken" in French, describing someone easily frightened or lacking courage. In English, we use the term "chicken" in a similar context, such as in the expressions "Are you a chicken?" or "to chicken out," which also describe lacking courage or deciding not to do something out of fear.
  2. Can you explain the idiom "crocodile tears" and its French equivalent? "Crocodile tears" refers to insincere or fake tears, suggesting manipulation rather than genuine sadness. The French equivalent, "des larmes de crocodile," holds the same meaning. This idiom is based on an old belief that crocodiles cry while eating their prey, although these tears are not due to emotions but are a natural occurrence during feeding.
  3. What does "faire l’autruche" mean, and what is its English counterpart? "Faire l’autruche," or "to do an ostrich," is a French idiom used to describe avoiding facing a problem, similar to the English idiom "to bury your head in the sand." Both expressions draw on the mistaken belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid danger, symbolizing denial or avoidance of reality.
  4. How is the concept of having a short memory expressed in both English and French idioms? In English, we say "to have a memory like a goldfish" to describe someone with a short memory, based on the myth that goldfish can only remember for a few seconds. The French equivalent is "avoir une mémoire de poisson rouge," translating directly to the same meaning. Despite being a myth, this idiom is popular in both languages to humorously describe forgetfulness.
  5. What does it mean to be called "the black sheep" in English, and how is it expressed in French? Being called "the black sheep" in English, or "le mouton noir" in French, refers to a person who is considered different, unconventional, or the odd one out, often in a family or group setting. This idiom stems from the rarity and lesser value of black sheep's wool compared to white sheep, symbolizing someone who stands out or doesn't fit in with the majority.

Today's English language lesson on idioms is a linguistic zoo where English and French animal idioms roam free, unlocking a world where chickens fear the sky and crocodiles weep like actors. It's a safari of sayings!

Most Unusual Words:

  • Chicken: A bird we eat or get eggs from. When someone is called a 'chicken' in English, it means they are scared or lack courage.
  • Crocodile tears: Fake tears. When someone cries 'crocodile tears', they aren't really sad. They're just pretending to make others think they are sad.
  • Ostrich: A very big bird that can't fly. Saying someone is 'burying their head in the sand' like an ostrich means they are ignoring problems, hoping they will just go away.
  • Goldfish: A small fish often kept as a pet. The phrase 'to have a memory like a goldfish' means to forget things very quickly, but it's not actually true about goldfish.
  • Black sheep: The unusual one in a group. When someone is called 'the black sheep', it means they are different from the others, often in a way that is not accepted by the rest.
  • High horse: When someone is on their 'high horse', they are acting as if they are better than others and criticizing them.
  • Cat's away, the mice will play: This means when the person in charge is not there, others will do things they normally wouldn't, taking advantage of the absence to break the rules.

Most Frequently Used Words:


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Transcript: British English Idioms You Can Use Everyday

English Animal Idioms - some are the same in French!

Hi there. Have you ever wondered why English has with so many phrases that just don’t make sense? Imagine calling someone a ‘chicken’ or accusing them of ‘crying crocodile tears’. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Well, today, we are back in the wonderful world of English idioms, specifically those involving animals. And also many of these idioms are not just found in English but are in French too! That’s ‘French’, FRENCH, the language of France. The same idiom in these two languages may not be exactly the same, but they’re very close! For each one, I’ll give you and explanation and also some examples so that you can remember the English version. If you’re a French speaker, you’re allowed to smile at my French pronunciation - and if you’re not and you’re not learning French, just focus on the English! Here goes.

Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.

Don’t be a chicken!

There’s an expression in French ‘être une poule mouillée’, which means literally ‘to be a wet chicken’. ‘Wet’ or ‘mouillée’ in French - just means ‘covered in water, damp’. And a chicken, CHICKEN is a hen, a bird that we eat and whose eggs we eat too. So this expression, ‘être une poule mouillée’, this idiom in French or English is used to describe someone who gets frightened very easily, someone who’s not very courageous. Imagine children daring each other to climb a tall tree, saying, "What's the matter? Are you a chicken?" So in English, we don’t say ‘a wet chicken’, but we do use ‘chicken’ to describe someone who ‘has a lack of courage’. Children might mock each other ‘Are you a chicken?’ - if one of them is afraid to perform some stunt or other. And we might say it of ourselves ‘Oh, I’m going to chicken out ’ - meaning ‘I’m not going to do what the others are doing - I’m too scared’. That’s a verb, ‘to chicken out’, meaning to avoid doing the scary thing. Another thing we say in English that’s related - ‘I’m too chicken’ - meaning I don’t have the courage, it’s too scary. ‘I’m too chicken to go parachute jumping’. That is certainly true for me. ‘Am I chickening out of doing a parachute jump?’ Too right!


A cartoon super chicken asking are you chicken? Emotions in Idioms: Cry Like a Crocodile?

©️ Adept English 2024

Are you crying crocodile tears?

What about the expression in French ‘des larmes du crocodile’ - and in English we would say ‘crocodile tears’. So a crocodile? CROCODILE? Well, these are terrifying animals, rather like a lizard, but actually 17 feet long or over 5m! Argh - wouldn’t want to meet one of those! They swim in rivers and they hide, waiting to eat you and they’ve got lots of teeth! Not my favourite animal, the crocodile. And ‘des larmes du crocodile’ or in English ‘crocodile tears’? So a ‘tear’, TEAR - this is the liquid which might come out of a person’s eyes, when they cry, when they’re sad. But the tears of a crocodile are not real - they’re not about sadness. So if you say that someone is ‘crying crocodile tears’ it means that you don’t think that they really feel sad and the tears are more there for the effect on other people. It’s manipulative, in other words! That’s crocodile tears. And is it really true? Do crocodiles cry tears? Well, apparently this has been put to the test - and they do. But crocodiles cry while eating their prey, PREY. That means other animals for their lunch, if you like! So crocodiles cry not because they’re sad - it’s just something that happens when they eat. Their eyes ‘froth and bubble’ apparently and scientists really don’t know why. So crocodiles aren’t feeling emotional and they’re not trying to trick us - it’s just what happens when they eat! But when we say it of a human being ‘they’re crying crocodile tears’, we’re suggesting they're being manipulative, not truly upset.

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Ostriches - don’t bury your heads in the sand!

Another French expression ‘faire l’autruche’ literally ‘to do an ostrich’. ‘Une autruche’ or ‘an ostrich’, OSTRICH is a bird - a very big bird and one that doesn’t fly. In English we might say someone ‘is being an ostrich’, but really the related expression would be ‘to bury your head in the sand’. What’s the connection? Well, those big birds - ostriches or ‘des autruches’ - they have a habit of putting their heads into the sand. It used to be thought to be that ostriches ‘buried their heads in the sand’ because they were frightened and they just didn’t want to look. And this is the way we use it in English - and French. If someone says ‘You’re being an ostrich’ - just like ‘faire l’autruche’, they mean that you’re not really confronting the problem. You’re trying to ignore a problem in the hope that it will go away. You’re closing your eyes, pretending your problem isn’t there. And we also might say of someone ‘Oh he’s just burying his head in the sand. He’s going to have to face it sooner or later’. So ‘to bury your head in the sand’ is a reference to this ostrich behaviour and means exactly the same as ‘you’re being an ostrich’.

The truth about ostriches

In actual fact, it’s been discovered that ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand because they’re scared and ‘don’t want to look’. Unlike chickens, ostriches don’t have a lot to be scared of! They stand around 9 feet or 2.74m tall, can kick very strongly to defend themselves. And if all else fails, they can run at 30mph for 10 miles if necessary - in metric, that’s 48kph! So fear isn’t really the motivation of ostriches when ‘burying their heads in the sand’. What do they have to fear with statistics like that?! What ostriches are actually doing it turns out, is looking after their eggs. When an ostrich lays eggs, she makes a very large hole in the sand. Ostrich eggs are big - and then the ostriches covers the eggs with sand. So when an ostrich buries her head in the sand, really she’s checking on her eggs or turning them over. But the expression still stands - ‘To bury your head in the sand’ or ‘To be an ostrich’. Something we use quite a lot.

I have a memory like a goldfish

What about this one? In French ‘avoir une mémoire du poisson rouge’ and pretty much the same idiom in English ‘To have a memory like a goldfish’. So a ‘goldfish’ or a ‘poisson rouge’ - interesting that it’s ‘red’ in French and ‘gold’ in English - you see ‘goldfish’, GOLDFISH in fishbowls, kept as pets. What do we mean ‘to have a memory like a goldfish’? Well, it’s based on the idea that goldfish have particularly bad memories - they don’t remember anything from more than 3 seconds ago in other words. I’ve heard that joke that a goldfish in a fishbowl, swimming round - doesn’t remember long enough to know it’s swimming in a fishbowl. But this is rather like the ostrich - it’s not actually true that goldfish have bad memories. It’s what you call a ‘myth’, MYTH - but one that exists all over the world. In fact, there are many scientific studies which show that goldfish have quite good memories and are actually a lot cleverer than we give them credit for! But again, the expression, the idiom still sticks - ‘Please remind me when I need to go out this afternoon - I’ve got a memory like a goldfish’. The opposite - again which is used all over the world including in French - ‘avoir une mémoire d’éléphant’, or in English ‘to have a memory like an elephant’. Another phrase ‘Elephants never forget’ - so we might say ‘Oh, she’s got a memory like an elephant’ meaning she’s got a good memory - but sometimes I wish she wouldn’t remember quite so well!

Are you the black sheep of your family?

Another idiom that’s both in French and English? ‘Le mouton noir’ or in English ‘the black sheep’. ‘Black’, BLACK is a colour you probably know - and ‘un mouton’ or ‘a sheep’ in English, SHEEP means the animal that we get wool from. Sheep live on hillsides - they are farmed for their wool. So what do we mean if we say someone ‘is a black sheep’, ‘un mouton noir’ or more often ‘the black sheep of the family’? Well, most sheep aren’t black - it’s something more unusual, so the black sheep sticks out, is very obvious in the flock. ‘Flock’, FLOCK just means ‘a group of sheep’. So that’s a collective noun. And what do we mean by ‘the black sheep’ or ‘the black sheep of the family’? It’s that that person is different, doesn’t fit in, even may be a bit mysterious, they keep to themselves. It’s often used in a negative way - it’s not necessarily positive to be ‘a black sheep’. This phrase, this idiom may have come about because the wool from black sheep was less easy to sell. It couldn’t be dyed different colours, like white sheep wool. ‘My uncle is a bit of a black sheep - he lives abroad and we don’t see him very much’.

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Let’s talk about ‘getting on your high horse’

Another one? In French ‘monter sur ses grands chevaux’ - in English ‘to get on your high horse’. ‘Un cheval’ in French or in English ‘a horse’, HORSE - that’s the animal that we ride - they go ‘clippety clop’. And ‘to get on your high horse’, means ‘to react critically to someone as though you are better than them’. I think a good adjective here is ‘indignant’ - if someone ‘gets on their high horse’, it means that they’re seeing themselves as right, but also superior in judging the situation’. ‘Indignant’, INDIGNANT. The person ‘on the high horse’, is criticising others from a superior position. The origins are fairly obvious - you can imagine in history, the people with the land and the money would be literally ‘on their high horse’, showing their superiority when they spoke to the ordinary people. So that’s ‘monter sur ses grands chevaux’ or ‘to get on your high horse’.

Practice Using Idioms In Real Situations

When the cat’s away, the mice will play!

Last one for today - animal idioms that are the same in French as English. ‘Quand le chat est parti, les souris dansent’ - it’s not exactly the same, but almost. In English ‘When the cat’s away, the mice will play’. So in French, the mice dance, in English, they play. Tradition has it - and it think it’s true if you go off my cat Vladimir - mice are scared of cats and are very wary, very frightened when the cat is around because they’re likely to be eaten. But if the cat’s away? Well, the point of the expression - it means that when the person in charge, or the person who is boss is absent, people take advantage. They do things they wouldn’t normally do. They ‘get away with more’, shall we say? If the big boss at work is absent, then maybe the staff get up to all kinds of things they wouldn’t, if the boss was there. ‘Quand le chat est parti, les souris dansent’ or when the cat’s away, the mice will play.


Hope you’ve enjoyed my bit of French! Even if you’ve no intention of learning French - I’ve kept it to a minimum - listen to this podcast a number of times, so that you can learn the phrases and remember them. There’s nothing like repeat listening to help you learn new words and idioms. Let us know whether there are idioms which are the same in your language as they are in English!

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

Thank you so much for listening. Please help me tell others about this podcast by reviewing or rating it. And, please share it on social media. You can find more listening lessons and a free English course at



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