Animal names that can also be verbs

What do the words badger, snake, ferret and fly have in common?

They are names of creatures, but they are also verbs or parts of phrasal verbs.

The reason this came up in one of my lessons was the word “badger”, which is both an animal and part of a verb construction. Badgers are related to weasels, they have greyish-brown fur, and although they eat both plants and animals, they mainly feed on earthworms. If you badger someone into doing something, you keep pestering them or you keep on about the thing with the hope that they’ll get tired of your nagging and give in. This isn’t something that badgers do, but sometimes people make dogs do it to badgers in a cruel activity called badger baiting.

The same works with the word “snake”. You can have a snake that slithers along the ground, or a river can snake its way through the forest, flowing in a curvy line.

Anyone who followed my “wolf week” posts on Facebook (you can also read the article here), will know that as well as being one of my favourite animals, the word “wolf” can also be part of a verb construction. If you wolf something down, you eat it very quickly.

I often ferret around in my handbag, looking for my keys, but I don’t have an animal in there. I’m just rummaging around, trying to find the keys.

Rabbits are generally quiet creatures, but if you rabbit on – and on, you talk a lot, usually in an annoying way.

Bugs are part of the food chain, and there are animals that rely on them for food, but if you bug someone, you annoy them.

You might be a conscientious saver and squirrel money away for a time when you need it, like the real squirrel, that stores away food for later.

Chickens are not necessarily cowardly, but if you chicken out of something, you lose your courage and don’t go ahead with it.

If you outfox someone, you show that you are smarter than them and outmanoeuvre them. You have the last laugh because you were more sly or cunning than the fox is said to be.

Can you think of any more?

More from English with Kirsty

If you like posts about animals, you may also enjoy my posts on idioms about wolves, idioms about cows and bulls, and my podcast on dog idioms.

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Kirsty working with students