having a goat under your arm (and other animal expressions)

I’ve recently come across a number of humorous expressions involving animals and thought I should share. The textbook we use in my German class gives the following:

  • Schwein haben : “to be lucky” (literally “to have a pig”)
  • einen Vogel haben : “to be crazy” (literally “to have a bird”)
  • einen Kater haben : “to have a hangover” (literally “to have a tomcat”)

My favorite animal expression in English is “I’m on it like a duck on a junebug” (thanks, David Lynch). The expression “let the cat out of the bag” has always mystified me. A friend has a good story about the term “pussy-footing”– but I won’t tell it for her. I also adore “happy as a pig in a ditch” and “that really gets my goat.”

goatSpeaking of goats, Aristophanes uses the word τραγομάσχαλος (tragomaschalos): “with armpits (μασχάλη)[ smelling like] a he-goat (τράγος*).”

Roman authors make this association as well. Catullus tells a certain Rufus that it’s no wonder girls don’t want to get with him, because valle sub alarum trux habitare caper: “a fierce he-goat lives in the valley under your arms” (Poem 69).

In the Ars Amatoria, Ovid, in the course of instructing women on how to pick up men, catches himself about to warn them not to let a fierce he-goat be in their armpits (ne trux caper iret in alas – Book 3, line 193) before he reassures himself it’s not necessary, because these are classy ladies he’s talking to.

Can we please bring this expression back? It doesn’t have to be derogatory: “Ohhh, you might not want to hug me right now. I’ve got a goat under my arms.”

* Some claim that our word “tragedy” originally meant “goat song,” either because of the connection between Dionysus (who was associated with goats) and the theater, or because of satyr plays (in which the chorus was made up of satyrs played by actors wearing goatskins), or because a goat was given as the main prize in a theater or singing competition.


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