IV Международный конкурс научно-исследовательских и творческих работ учащихся
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Панченко П.С. 1
1Муниципальное общеобразовательное учреждение "Средняя школа №31"
Шумакова Н.Л. 1
1Муниципальное общеобразовательное учреждение "Средняя школа №31"
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An idiom is a succession of words whose meaning is not obvious through the knowledge of the individual words. It must be learned as a whole.

Every language has its own expressive and stylistic devices. That is why a translator should avoid calquing the idioms from source language and try to use the specific devices of the target language. Idioms are real treasure of each language.

As a word comes to be a very powerful means of communication but also can be a cause of a great misunderstanding if it is not clearly understood by one of the speakers.

The understanding of the native speaker’s language is the international problem for the students. So it is very important to know the peculiarities of different languages.

There are loads of idioms in the English language that include animals. Many people have heard of the famous “it’s raining cats and dogs”! Of course it’s not really raining cats and dogs; it’s just raining a lot.

In general, English and Russian are rich in vocabulary containing animal idiom as the carrier. However, due to the origin of language, cultural background, traditional practices and religious beliefs, which appear in the idiom of animal words in their language system, the association may have different meaning.

The aim of this paper is to examine the semantic differences and similarities of idioms of thematic group “animals” taking into account different criteria, compare and contrast the results of investigation in order to discover differences and similarities in translating, meanings and usage.

The objectives of the work are:

  1. to compare English and Russian idioms;

  2. to find out similarities and differences in the association in English and Russian idioms;

  3. to compile English and Russian animal idioms glossary.

The research materials are the idiomatic expressions of the thematic group of “animals” in the English and Russian languages.

The methods of research are: the overall selection (used in gathering the research material), description and analysis (used in considering the semantic nature of researched materials).

This work will help language learners to use idioms properly and to improve their language communicative ability.

Section 1. Notion of Phraseological Units and Their Classification.

What is an idiom? How many different types of idioms there are in English? Where do they come from? Are people from different cultures and backgrounds able to understand idioms from only the context?

Idioms are words and phrases that communicate a specific idea or meaning which might not be easy be guessed by looking at individual words in the phrase.

English can’t be considered full of value without idiomatic usage, as the use of idioms is the first sign of a certain language’s developing. Idiomatic sentences enrich a language and the knowledge of idioms signal that the speaker knows the language on the level of a native speaker.

English is a language particularly rich in idioms. Without idioms English would lose much of its variety and humour both in speech and writing.

Some idioms of the English language have first been seen in the works of writers like Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Lewis Carroll. But the background and etymological origins of most idioms is at best obscure.

Idioms can’t and mustn’t be translated directly as such a brunch of language as idioms is inseparably connected with nation’s mentality and mode of life. The contest usually helps to understand idioms. One way to learn idioms is to put them into different groups.

According to the words that are used in the idioms there are, for example:

  • animal idioms ( to pig out – объедаться),

  • body idioms ( sweet tooth – сладкоежка),

  • clothing idioms ( to keep one’s short on – пытаться сохранять спокойствие),

  • food idioms ( not worth a bean – гроша ломаного не стоит),

  • weather idioms ( a fair-weather friend – ненадёжный друг),

  • geography idioms ( to make a mountain out of a molehill – делать из мухи слона),

  • sports idioms ( to skate on thin ice – действовать рискованно),

  • house idioms ( like a house on fire – быстро и легко; успешно, прекрасно),

  • time idioms ( to do time – сидеть в тюрьме),

  • talking idioms ( to talk the hind leg off a donkey – заговорить, утомить многословием),

  • love idioms ( to tie the knot – пожениться),

  • money idioms (the other side of the coin – другая сторона медали),

  • colour idioms (To be browned off – устать от чего - либо).

Some idioms contain one word (chicken out– cтрусить, не сделать что-либо из-за страха), but most idioms are word-combinations (to eat like a horse – много есть) and even sentences. (Birds of a feather flock together. – Рыбак рыбака видит издалека.)

According to the impressions that idioms produce, there are:

  • positive impression idioms: kittens and puppies- небольшой дождь; puppy love – детская любовь, мальчишеское увлечение; puppyhood – молодые годы, неопытность; love me, love my dog – принимай меня таким, какой я есть.

  • neutral impression idioms: shaggy-dog story – несмешной анекдот с запутанным сюжетом и нелепой концовкой; dog days – мертвый сезон; go to the dogs – разориться, пойти прахом.

  • negative impression idioms: top dog – хозяин положения; underdog – побежденный, неудачник; don’t keep a dog and bark yourself – не работай за своего подчиненного или работника; dog tag – армейский жетон.

Section 2. Practical Part.

2.1. Classification of Animal Idioms According to the Animal Words and the Association They Have in Both Languages.

While working with animal idioms I looked through about 332 English and Russian idioms. I have been collecting them from different sources: books, dictionaries, the Internet resources.

In English there are a lot of words with the animal idioms. According to the animal words and the association they have we can name 3 categories of animal idioms:

  1. The same animal vocabulary carrier, the same associative meaning.

Because the same kinds of animals have the same characteristics, and thus in different cultural and social people in the same animal words produce the same psychological associations is not surprising.

In this category, the most common to the number of ‘mouse’ (rat). Either in Russian or English, the associative meaning of mice is negative. For instance, we use “timid as a mouse”, (as) “quiet as a mouse” and so on, to describe the cowardly, humble, short-sighted people. In the United States slang, rat is the lowly and disloyal people. For example, “to smell a rat” means to suspect that something is wrong, or that someone is doing something dishonest or incorrect.

  1. The same animal vocabulary carrier, different associative meaning.

Usually this type of animal words most able to cross-cultural communication and translation of an obstacle, the most common is “dog”. Dog frequently has a pejorative connotation in Russian idioms, such as “dog`s life”, “an old sick dog”, but “a dog loyalty”. However, Westerners are very fond of dogs, but also give them high status. ‘Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture’ in the definition given in the dog, not only includes “a kind of pet”, but also includes “a member of the family”. Therefore, the English idioms associated with dogs are usually with a positive meaning, such as “every dog has his own day”, “love me, love my dog”, “help a lame dog over a stile”.

  1. Different animal words carrier, the same associative meaning.

There are two kinds of people in society in different languages, due to different social experience and customs and they are likely to lead to looking at things in different ways and angles. Therefore, different animal words carriers may generate the same association of two cultures. When we talk about silly and fool person, we describe him or her as a person who has “brain of a pigeon”, instead of Russian “brain of a hen”. “Black sheep” is one who is very different from the others, and least respected by the other members of the family or other group of people. In Russian language this person is compared with “white crow”.


  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Лучше синица в руках, чем журавль в небе.

  • A cat in gloves catches no mice. Без труда не вытащишь и рыбки из пруда.

  • Dogs that put up many hares kill none. За двумя зайцами погонишься, ни одного не поймаешь.

  • To kill two birds with one stone. Убить двух зайцев одним ударом.

  • Тo stare like a stuck pig. Глядеть как баран на новые ворота.

  • A dog that barks doesn't bite. Бодливой корове бог рог не даёт.

  • When the cows come home. Когда рак на горе свистнет.

From the above classification, we can see that the animal words in English and Russian idioms carrier can be triggered by the associative meaning of the same, it can be different. This is not just a language difference, but also a kind of cultural differences.

2.2. The frequency of usage the images of pets and other animals in English and Russian idioms.

Language is the carrier of culture which contains people's daily life. Language cannot exist without carrying culture meaning. The relationship between language and culture can be described as follows: language and culture work closely and influence each other. Learning a language well must be aware of its culture.

There is a close relationship between animals and people's lives. On the one hand, animal is the main source of food and clothing for human; the other hand, kinds of animals represent certain images which people pay homage to them. These animals reflect human thought and contain certain national culture. Animal idioms are plentiful in English. They prominently reflect English culture. Animal idioms, like a mirror, can clearly reflect the characteristics of a national culture.

“Pets” idioms are most frequently used animal idioms in English and Russian. The most popular pets in both languages’ idioms are a dog, a cat and a horse. Cats, along with dogs, are the most popular domesticated animals. They have been associated with humans for thousands of years and it is no wonder that a lot of idioms and multi-word expressions appeared in English and Russian through time. As cats and dogs are the two most popular pets, it is no surprise that a lot of idioms with these two animals exist.

Horses symbolize hard work, and it is often said of workaholics that they are plowing like a horse. Intriguingly, a technical word that is used to describe gray horses (сивый) forms part of expressions to “lie like a gray gelding”, meaning to say blatant lies, and “ravings of a gray mare”, meaning utter nonsense. In ancient Britain, horses are main tillable force. The function of horses is above all. Thus, there is particularly large number of horse-related idioms, such as horse of another color, an iron horse, or horse sense etc.

But as you see (Appendix “Glossary “English Animal idioms”) the most popular English idioms are those with the images of a fish. In the history, Great Britain was the overlord in the sea. Despite the Europe, other continents were the British colonies. Therefore, British nation could contact with many animal species. Britain is surrounded by islands. Thereby, English idioms have close contact with sea and fishing, for example, “hook one's fish”.

In the Russian language the most frequently used animals are a bear, a mouse and a wolf. The main characters in Russian folk tales are the wolf, the fox, the hare and the bear. The traits they personify in those tales have given birth to the following expressions: “hungry as a wolf”, “crafty like a fox”; and “cowardly like a hare”. As for the bear, which in real life is a dangerous predator, in Russian folk tales, he is usually represented as a clumsy but goodhearted creature. A mouse is associated with poverty, hence the expression “poor as a church mouse.”

As for “wolf” idioms, in both languages these idioms express mostly negative meaning.

Ex. Wolf in sheep’s clothing – it is used of those playing a role contrary to their real character, with whom contact is dangerous.

Ex. Лезет в волки, а хвост собачий - так говорят о человеке, который хочет казаться круче, сильнее, чем он есть на самом деле.

Comparisons to birds usually have positive connotations: “to sing like a nightingale”; “slender like a swan”; “wise as an owl”; “quick as a sparrow”; and “proud as an eagle”. At the same time, some birds are associated with negative traits: “fierce like a vulture” you could say of an aggressive and angry man; she is “prattling like a magpie” you could say of a particularly talkative woman; while a mother who does not take good care of her children is sometimes called “a cuckoo”.

There are certainly many things in common among different nations because of human beings’ intercommunity and cultural integration. Yet there are still many different things among the nations. Language is no exception. Similarities and differences exist in different languages. In another way, we can say that it is different social environment, cultural background and historical period that give those animal idioms different meanings.


A language is a living substance, which involves under the influence of different factors. Being very flexible English and Russian languages constantly enrich their vocabulary with the word invented by the language speakers, making it more colourful with new idiomatic expressions, and at times refills this stocks with the borrowings and neologism.

In the comprehension of English and Russian idioms that contain animal words, there are similarities among different nations. But differences still exist due to the different cultural traditions, historical backgrounds and views of seeing things.

I have chosen this topic because I think it is obvious that such expressions play an important role in the language. Thus animal idioms enrich the vocabulary and make the language more colourful and emotionally shadowed.

The aim of my investigation was to compare the frequency of the usage of animal idioms in two languages, to compare the meanings that each animal express and find out differences and similarities in the “usage” of animals in idioms of the English and Russian languages.

My research consisted of the following stages:

• First of all I collected animal idioms in English and Russian dictionaries of idioms and phraseological units, from the Internet sources and calculated the frequency of usage of each animal.

• Then I classified the idioms according to the animal. In the process of research I came into conclusion that the most frequently used animals in idioms are: a dog, a cat and a horse. One of the most unexpected practical findings was the fact that most popular idioms in the English language have domestic animals; while Russians idioms have wild animals.

The practical value of the work consists in the fact that it can be used at the English language lessons as a means of raising pupils’ interest and developing language guessing skills. One can use the glossary I compiled.

This paper compared idioms of two languages: English and Russian, demonstrating the vast variety of idioms, as well as how difficult they can be to understand. I think idioms are very important, because they make speech more expressive. They help to express different feelings of people. In literary language as well as in everyday speech we just cannot do without them. It really makes our language poetic and solemn in some ways, but simple and precise in other ways.


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