• When I think about it, idioms about animals in my mother tongue, which is Bengali, don’t have much of animal behaviour reflecting back upon them. While some of them might reflect the specific animal’s behaviour, and extrapolate that animal behaviour to make some philosophical statement on human behaviour –most of them, are about anthropomorphising animal behaviour.

    One can easily make this distinction, if interested to read the following:


    Cats have interesting idioms, mirroring their intriguing personality. To start with, the following one is true about cats:

    a) Naram mati pele berale haage

    Literal translation: Cats shit on soft surfaces.

    Meaning: Those who seem more vulnerable, are terrorized/bullied more. It’s important to keep a tough exterior.

    b) Beral Tapaswi

    Literal Translation: A cat saint

    Meaning: Someone who has put on a mask, or is manipulative (indicating that cats can never be a saint).

    c) Buro Bham

    Literal Translation: An old civet cat.

    Meaning: The idiom is used to indicate senile, impulsive or inexplicable behaviour of old people.

    I have no idea why civet cats are used as an example, because from whatever limited knowledge I have of civet cats, they don’t particularly have inexplicable behaviour.

    d) Beral bole machh khabo na

    Literal Translation: The cat says “I won’t eat fish”!

    Meaning: This idiom is used to describe someone who is trying to act too innocent, and says/does something that goes against their very essential nature.

    e) Bhije Beral

    Literal Translation: Wet Cat

    Meaning: Somebody who has cowered down (to rise again later).


    Murgi kora

    Literal Translation: Make a chicken (of someone)

    Meaning: To fool or cheat someone, just like chickens are fed and sheltered in farms, only to be killed later.


    A lot of idioms involve cows, the holiest animal in Hinduism. Thought not many of them are speaking anything holy or giving out positive vibes about cows.

    a) Golper Goru Gachhe Othe

    Literal Translation: In a story, the cow climbs a tree.

    Meaning: Nothing becomes impossible in fiction and imagination. The connotation is negative; it’s not eulogizing the power of imagination.

    b) Dushtu goru’r theke shunyo gowal bhalo

    Literal Translation: An empty cowshed is better than a disobedient cow.

    Meaning: It’s better to get rid of unsuitable persons.

    c) Shokuner shaap-e ki goru morey?

    Literal Translation: Would a cow die being cursed by the vulture?

    Meaning: Although vultures (who are scavengers), would wish for the death of the cow, and could curse the cow, the cow wouldn’t just die by such wishes. In human language, an evil person wishing bad for you is not to be given any emotional importance.

    d) Kana Goru’r bhinno poth

    Literal translation: A blind cow has a different route.

    Meaning: Someone without vision is bound to get lost.

    e) Ghor pora goru snidure megh dekhle doray.

    Literal translation: A cow from a burnt home gets afraid on just seeing a reddish (vermilion coloured) cloud.

    Meaning: A bitter experience (of something) makes us cautious or paranoid.

    f) Gai-Bachhur e bhaab thakle bone giye dudh dyay.

    Literal Translation: If there’s intimacy between the cow and the calf, the cow would give milk (to the calf) by going to the woods.

    Meaning: If the bonding between two people are strong, then no external obstacles can be barrier to receiving love from each other.

    This one always seemed so wrong to me, to frame it in the above manner. Cows are basically being asked to overcome the obstacles of human milking and bondage as received by humans by going to the woods, so that the calf is not deprived. Only humans can come up with this twisted reasoning.

    g) Kolu’r bolod

    Literal Translation: The bull of Kolu (i.e. someone named Kolu, who usually has an oil mill, and uses a bull to rotate that mill)

    Meaning: Someone who is working round the clock but is not gaining something or sustain his/her profits.

    h) Baghe-Goru te ek ghaate jol khaay

    Literal Translation: Tigers and cows drink from the same waterbody.

    Meaning: This idiom is used to indicate someone’s influence and rule of law. It means by virtue of someone’s influence, all of the mighty (Tigers) and the weak and vulnerable (cows) are equal in fearing that someone.

    i) Khachhilo tnaati tnaat buney, kaal holo tar enre goru kine

    Literal Translation: The weaver was happy with his weaving, but buying a cow so backfired!

    Meaning: This idiom is used to describe a situation where you buy/invest in something, but and problems start to appear because of that investment…which is not suited to your life; just like how having a cow is not suited to the weaver life.

    j) Goru mere juto daan

    Literal Translation: Killing the cow and then presenting a shoe.

    Meaning: Try to do something ridiculously compensatory after you’ve harmed a person. The meaning comes from the analogy of trying to kill the cow of some person, and then you try to make that person happy by gifting him/her with a shoe made from that cowhide.


    Moyurpuchhodhari kaak

    Literal Translation: A crow who’s holding a peacock’s feathers.

    Meaning: A crow can tuck in a peacock’s feathers to look like a peacock, but that doesn’t take away the impostor status.

    b) Kaak kaaker mangsho khaay na.

    Literal Translation: A crow doesn’t eat crow meat.

    Meaning: One evil person doesn’t bully/harass another evil person.

    c) Bel pakle kaaker ki?

    Literal Translation: What’s it to a crow if a wood apple ripens?

    Meaning: This idiom is used to describe a situation that is of no relevance to someone, just like a ripe wood apple is of no relevance to a crow (because the crow doesn’t eat wood apples).


    Gadhar khaatni

    Literal Translation: Donkey’s work.

    Meaning: Work like a slave, in a thankless situation (in old times, it was usual to have donkeys to do carry around stuff and make them work in a variety of situations. Inspite of that, donkeys never had the love or elitism that horses would have).

    DOVES & PIGEONS (They are referred by a single term in Bengali)

    a) Sukher Paayra

    Literal Translation: Pigeons of Happiness

    Meaning: Fairweather friends.

    b) Ghughu dekhechho phnaad dekhoni

    Literal Translation: You’ve seen ghughu (spotted dove) , but you haven’t seen the trap! (Spotted doves are pigeon like birds that are usually seen to reside in old buildings –in cracks or windows or nets; they are quite a familiar sight).

    Meaning: You have seen the familiar and therefore, you got greedy but then you missed the fine print (or something) that’s out to get you!


    a) Jemon kukur tar temon mugur

    Literal Translation: The club (weapon) should befit the dog.

    Meaning: To counter or punish a deviant something/someone, you need a suitable weapon.

    b) Kukur-er pet e ghee sojhyo hoi na

    Literal Translation: A dog’s stomach can’t digest Ghee (clarified butter).

    Meaning: “Third-class people” can’t understand/accept “high class” stuff.


    a) Mora haati laakh taka

    Literal Translation: A dead elephant is worth a lakh of rupees (lakh = 100000)

    Meaning: Even a fallen person (fallen from status or something) is worth something.

    b) Sada haati posha

    Literal Translation: Keeping a white elephant as a pet

    Meaning: There are no white elephants, it’s a concept like unicorn. The idiom is used to signify doing something that costs you more than it pays off in any manner.

    c) Hati kaday porle, byange/chamchiketeo lathi maare

    Literal Translation: When an elephant falls into mud (and can’t get up), even a frog / an Indian pipistrelle would come and kick the elephant.

    Meaning: All the hillbillies will strike at someone mighty in their crisis situation.

    d) Hati ghora gyalo tol, mosha bole koto jol

    Literal Translation: After the horse and the elephant were drowned, the mosquito said “Oh so much water!”

    Meaning: This idiom is used to describe the situation of some trivial person stating the obvious after the mighty people have already proved that specific thing.


    a) Sob sheyal er ek ra

    Literal Translation: All foxes have the same call.

    Meaning: The meaning actually comes from a nice short story.

    Once upon a time, a fox had fallen into a container of indigo, belonging to an Indian launderer. When the fox managed to come out of that big container, he saw the reflection of himself and saw that he has changed—he has become blue.

    He believed in that external change. Then, he went to a new jungle.

    All the other animals were very surprised to see this new blue animal. They couldn’t place him. The proud fox, of his new found identity, said, “I’m so different to all of you. God has sent me to rule all of you. I’m the king of this jungle.”

    The God-fearing animals thought it made sense to accept this Godsend fox, and accepted the new verdict of having him as the king of the jungle (when in actuality, the title of “king of the jungle” belongs to the lion).

    When night time came, the foxes were out hunting, and calling out to each other. As the blue fox heard his species brothers, he couldn’t resist, and gave out his characteristic foxy call.

    And that’s how he was outed; and ousted from his “kingdom”.

    The idiom means that however much you can change yourself from outside, your character will show itself in due time.

    b) Aada’r bon e sheyal raja

    Literal Translation: A fox is the king in the ginger woods.Meaning: One becomes a king in a place filled with unchallenged, trivial, lesser beings.


    a) Kuyor byang

    Literal Translation: A frog of the well (i.e. who lives in a well).

    Meaning: This idiom is used to indicate a person who is able to conceptualize the world only through his limited knowledge, just like a frog living in a well might think the well is the only world existing.

    b) Byanger adhuli

    Literal Translation: A frog’s 50 pence coin.

    Meaning: Idiom is used to indicate a very small fund (or resource), which is pretty much all you can muster.

    c) Byang-er pechhap

    Literal Translation: The piss of a frog

    Meaning: This idiom is used to depict very little rainfall, so little that it demands a ridiculous descriptor to signify how small the rainfall actually was.


    a) Ashwadimbo

    Literal Meaning: A horse’s egg.

    Meaning: A horse (a mammal) doesn’t lay an egg. Therefore, this idiom is used to mean something that just cannot happen (usually used to depict incredulity).

    b) Ashwamedh er ghora

    Literal Translation: The horse of an Ashvamedha sacrifice.

    Meaning: Someone who has to work a lot by moving here and there, just like a horse has to roam in that fabled horse-sacrifice ritual.


    Bolir Pnatha

    Literal and actual meaning: Sacrificial Lamb.

    LIZARD/Gecko (We have a single term for lizards and geckos)


    Meaning: Tiktiki or a lizard is often used to indicate detectives. The association is drawn from how lizards would lay like a log, stalking their prey, only to pounce upon it when the right time and opportunity strikes. The idiom is used in a pejorative way.


    a) Bnadorer er golay muktor mala

    Literal Translation: A pearl necklace around a monkey’s neck.

    Meaning: This idiom is used to indicate an ugly someone who has got a beautiful wife, or “undeserved” something.

    b) Chnaade ar honumaaner pnowde

    Literal Translation: A moon and the butt of a monkey.

    Meaning: This idiom is used to indicate a very unfair comparison that could be made, when the actual level of difference is that of signifying the beauty of the moon, as compared to the butt of a monkey.


    a) Mari toh gandar, luti toh bhandar

    Literal Translation: Killing a rhinocerous is equal to looting a treasure.

    Meaning: This idiom is used to indicate doing something in a grand scale, not settling for anything middle-of-the-road, or smaller. A rhino is a big animal, and killing it means getting a lot of meat, hence the association.

    b) Gondarer Chamra

    Literal Translation: Skin of a rhino

    Meaning: Being so thick-skinned, that no rebuke or criticism can touch the person. This idiom would be usually used in a pejorative manner, but in recent times, I’ve seen some sarcastic but positive uses.


    Quite a few idioms are in Bengali involving Snakes. Barring one, all of them have negative connotation.

    a) dudh kola diye kaalsaap posha

    Literal meaning: Keeping a pet snake by giving it milk and bananas.

    Meaning: Sustaining a person (through help or affection or other means) who is very harmful to you.

    Why bananas and milk?

    In movies and popular culture, somehow a snake is always demonstrated to drink milk. There is also a snake Goddess in Hinduism (Goddess of snakes – Manasa), and since Gods are almost always offered milk and bananas in worship, these two kinds of food are also used to invoke the idea of sustaining a snake (evil thing).

    b) Saaper hachi bedey chene

    Literal Translation: A snake charmer knows the sneezing of a snake. Meaning: However much you can disguise yourself, your friends or your enemy –a person who knows you well, can see through your manipulative garb.

    c) Saaper gaaleo chumu, Byanger gaaleo chumu

    Literal Translation: A kiss on the snake’s cheek, and a kiss on the frog’s cheek.

    Meaning: This idiom is used to describe someone who is two-timing or lacks any integrity and therefore, kisses two extremely contrasted ideological parties.

    d) Du mukho saap

    Literal Translation: A two-headed snake.

    Meaning: A very evil person, a sheep in a wolf’s clothing…a formidable someone who will always harm you.

    b) Saape neul er somporko

    Literal Translation: Like the relationship between a snake and mongoose

    Meaning: The idiom is used to indicate a very volatile and inimical relationship between two people…since mongoose attacks snakes and vice versa.


    a) Baghe chhule athero gha

    Literal Translation: When a tiger touches you, you get 18 beatings.

    Meaning: If you get into a crisis situation, you get more mishaps than you anticipate (or prepare for).

    b) Dangay bagh jole kumir

    Literal Translation: A tiger in the land, and a crocodile in the water

    Meaning: This idiom is used to indicate a particularly dangerous or dicey situation, when you don’t know which route to take.

    c) Bagher rokter swad paoa

    Literal Translation: The tiger has tasted blood.

    Meaning: In this idiom, “blood” means human blood. Just like a man-eater tiger wouldn’t eat anything else, and prefers humans as the next prey, this idiom is used to signify someone who will keep doing something over and over again because s/he just discovered how gloriously pleasurable something tastes, for the first time.

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