Bigger Fish to Free: PETA’s Complete List of Animal-Friendly Idioms

It has perhaps never been more evident that words carry immense power. People are striving to identify racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist phrases and eradicate them from our language. Unfortunately, many of us also grew up hearing phrases that condone violence toward animals and perpetuate speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. Sayings such as “kill two birds with one stone,” “beat a dead horse,” and “bring home the bacon” all normalize violent acts against some of the most defenseless members of our society.

Since PETA released our list of updated, animal-friendly idioms, people have instead been “feeding two birds with one scone” trying not to “feed a fed horse,” and “bringing home the bagels“—and we’ve been seeing this nonviolent language popping up on social media. So we’re back at it, updating old, speciesist phrases. Since no one really wants to skin a cat, break a camel’s back, or chase wild geese, here’s PETA’s complete list of animal-friendly idioms.

Instead of: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Try: An ace in the hand is worth two in the deck

Instead of: Act like an animal

Try: Act like an ogre

Instead of: A feather in your cap

Try: A flower in your cap

Instead of: Ants in your pants

Try: Itches in your britches

Instead of: Ape

Try: Impersonate

Instead of: Back the wrong horse

Try: Back the wrong team

Instead of: Badger

Try: Bother


Instead of: Bark up the wrong tree

Try: Chase down the wrong lead

Instead of: Bats in your belfry

Try: Noodles in your noggin

Instead of: Be the guinea pig

Try: Be the test tube

Instead of: Beat a dead horse

Try: Feed a fed horse

Instead of: Be catty

Try: Backbite

Instead of: Bee in your bonnet

Try: Thorn in your side

Instead of: Be in the doghouse

Try: Be on someone’s bad side

Instead of: Bigger fish to fry

Try: Bigger fish to free

Instead of: Birdbrain

Try: Pea brain

Instead of: Blind as a bat

Try: Blind as the eyes on a potato

Instead of: Bring home the bacon

Try: Bring home the bagels

Instead of: Build a better mousetrap

Try: Build a better mouse pad

Instead of: Bull in a china shop

Try: Tornado in a glass factory

Instead of: Can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Try: Can’t teach an old clown new tricks

Instead of: Cash cow

Try: Moneymaker

Instead of: Catch more flies with honey

Try: Befriend more flies with molasses

Instead of: Chicken out

Try: Lose your nerve

Instead of: Cry over spilt milk

Try: Cry over spilt Silk

Instead of: Curiosity killed the cat

Try: Mind your own business

Instead of: Dirty dog

Try: Filthy fiend

Instead of: Dirty rat

Try: Dirty rascal

Instead of: Dog and pony show

Try: Halftime show

Instead of: Dog-eat-dog world

Try: Cut-throat world

Happy rescued dog Maggie

Instead of: Dogfight

Try: Free-for-all

Instead of: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

Try: Don’t count your chips before they’re cashed

Instead of: Eat crow

Try: Eat your words

Instead of: Eat like a pig

Try: Gluttonize

Instead of: Every dog has its day

Try: Every dog has to play

Instead of: Fish or cut bait

Try: Cook or get out of the kitchen

Instead of: Fly in the ointment

Try: Sand in the gears

Instead of: Fox guarding the henhouse

Try: Vampire guarding the blood bank

Instead of: Get off your high horse

Try: Come down off your pedestal

Instead of: Go to the dogs

Try: Go to pot

Instead of: Have a dog in this fight

Try: Have a stake in this game

Instead of: He’s a catch

Try: He’s a match

Instead of: Hog

Try: Monopolize

Instead of: Hold your horses

Try: Cool your jets

Instead of: Hooked

Try: Obsessed

Instead of: Horsing around

Try: Messing around

Instead of: Hounded

Try: Hassled

Instead of: Kill two birds with one stone

Try: Feed two birds with one scone

Instead of: Let the cat out of the bag

Try: Spill the beans

Instead of: Like a chicken with its head cut off

Try: Like your hair is on fire

Instead of: Look like the cat who swallowed the canary

Try: Look as guilty as sin

Instead of: Mad as a March hare

Try: Mad as a hatter

Instead of: Madder than a wet hen

Try: Madder than an Internet troll

Instead of: Make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

Try: Make a diamond bracelet out of a lump of coal

Instead of: Milk it for all it’s worth

Try: Juice it for all it’s worth

Instead of: More than one way to skin a cat

Try: More than one way to peel an orange

Instead of: Not my circus, not my monkeys

Try: Not my problem

Instead of: Not my first rodeo

Try: Not my first roadshow

Instead of: Off the hook

Try: In the clear

Instead of: One-trick pony

Try: One-trick magician

Instead of: Open a can of worms

Try: Open Pandora’s box

Instead of: Packed in like sardines

Try: Packed in like pickles

Instead of: Parrot

Try: Mimic

Instead of: Pig out

Try: Hoover it up

Instead of: Pigheaded

Try: Hardheaded

Instead of: Pony up

Try: Pay up

Instead of: Pull a rabbit out of a hat

Try: Pull a coin out of an ear

Instead of: Pull the wool over your eyes

Try: Pull the polyester over your eyes

Instead of: Pussyfoot around

Try: Tread lightly

Instead of: Put all your eggs in one basket

Try: Put all your berries in one basket

Instead of: Put lipstick on a pig

Try: Gild the lily

Instead of: Put the cart before the horse

Try: Put the caboose before the engine

Instead of: Quit cold turkey

Try: Quit cold tofu

Instead of: Rat out

Try: Nark

Instead of: Ruffle your feathers

Try: Mess up your hair

Instead of: Shoot fish in a barrel

Try: Steal candy from a baby

Instead of: Sitting duck

Try: Easy target

Instead of: Smell a rat

Try: Smell a rotten apple

Instead of: Snail mail

Try: Molasses mail

Instead of: Stubborn as a mule

Try: Stubborn as a fool

Instead of: Talk turkey

Try: Talk Tofurky

Instead of: That dog won’t hunt

Try: That boat won’t float

Instead of: That really gets my goat

Try: That really gets my goatee

Instead of: The straw that broke the camel’s back

Try: The strawberry that broke the gardener’s basket

Instead of: The world is your oyster

Try: The world is your oyster mushroom

Instead of: Walking on egg shells

Try: Walking on thin ice

Instead of: Weasel

Try: Con man

Instead of: We were chomping at the bit

Try: We couldn’t contain ourselves

Instead of: Wild goose chase

Try: Wild gooseberry chase

gander rescued by LION

Instead of: Wolf in sheep’s clothing

Try: Flim-flam man

Instead of: Your goose is cooked

Try: You’re dead in the water


Of course, all of us at PETA will still let sleeping dogs lie, not hurt a fly, watch animal abusers like hawks, and talk about the elephant in the room (who should be with her matriarchal herd). Have more ideas for getting speciesism out of our language? Tweet to @peta and let us know:

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