Fun Farming Idioms, Proverbs and Phrases

Have you ever heard of an “idiom”?  An idiom is a group of words that have come to have a special meaning in addition to their original meaning.  In other words, idioms have a figurative meaning based on their original, literal meaning.  The best way to understand what an idiom is would be to look at some commonly used idioms.  I have chosen to explore some idioms that have their origins in farming in this blog entry.  Idioms can be a lot of fun to research and discuss.  At the end of this post, I will list a number of other farm related idioms that you can research for yourself.





This idiom, or proverb, can be traced all the way back to Aesop’s fables.  (Remember when we talked about Aesop in another blog post?)  In Aesop’s story The Milkmaid and Her Pail, he says, “Ah, my child,” said the mother, “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.

This idiom means that we should not count on things before they actually happen because sometimes things don’t turn out the way we think they might.



This idiom means to be thankful when you are given a gift and don’t complain about it.

A horse’s age can be determined by looking at it’s teeth.  Evidently, there was a time when those people who had been given a horse as a gift would look into it’s mouth to see how old it was and if it wasn’t a young horse, they would complain about the gift that had been given to them.  We know for sure this phrase goes back to the 16th century when a man named John Heywood wrote,

Where gifts be given freely—east, west, north or south—
No man ought to look a given horse in the mouth.
The phrase may actually be even older as it is sometimes attributed to Saint Jerome.




This was a popular idiom of the 19th century when the word “pie” was used to describe something of pleasure.  It’s not hard to eat a mouth watering piece of pie!  In other words, easy as pie is used to mean doing something that is pleasurable.

Mark Twain used the word “pie” in this manner in his book Huckleberry Finn when he said, “You’re always as polite as pie to them.”

Additional Links:

Mark Twain Boyhood Home page with resources for kids.

Interesting facts about Mark Twain.




Let’s think about it.  If you have all your eggs in one basket and the basket tips over or you drop the basket what is going to happen to those eggs?  They could possibly all get broken, right?  If you have your eggs in two or more baskets, you are less likely to drop them all and break them.  This phrase means that it might not be wise to use all of your resources on one project or venture in case your plans don’t work out the way you anticipate.

This idiom is often traced back to the author of the book Don Quixote,  a man named  Miguel Cervantes.

However, it is said that the literal translation of this phrase is not found in Cervantes book but rather the idea.

Brief video explaining plot of Don Quixote to children here.



Making Hay

Hay loses it’s nutritional value when it exposed to rain after it has been cut.  If it gets too wet and won’t dry out, it will mold and it is useless.  This phrase means that we should make the best use of the time that we are given.  We shouldn’t waste good opportunities.

A lot of idioms, or proverbial phrases are difficult to trace back to their specific origin.  However, this phrase can be almost positively traced back to English Tudor origin as it first appears in the writings of John Heywood who in 1546 wrote,

“Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.”




We all know that pigs can’t fly!  This phrase simply references in a humorous way the impossibility of a situation.

This phrase is a little hard to trace with it’s variations but we do know that Lewis Carroll used it in the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written in 1865 when he wrote, “”I’ve a right to think,” said Alice sharply… “Just about as much right,” said the Duchess, “as pigs have to fly.”




Now that I have shared some of these idioms and phrases with you, here is a list of some others that you can research for yourself or talk with a friend or parent about what you think they might mean:

Let the cat out of the bag

Happy as a pig in mud

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise

Madder than a wet hen

Busy as a bee

That’s how the cow ate the cabbage.

Useless as teats on a boar hog

Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Stubborn as a mule

Strong as an ox

Were you born in a barn?

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

Eat like a pig

Egg on your face

Pecking order

When you mess with the bull, you get the horn.

Room at the trough

Nervous as a cat

Went around Robin Hood’s barn

Let sleeping dog’s lie

The grass is always greener on the other side

As scarce as hen’s teeth

No sense in shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted

You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.

Pot calling the kettle black

As ugly as a mud fence

Till the cows come home

On it like a duck on a June bug


A special thank you to the following Facebook friends who helped me brain storm for idioms and phrases to use in this blog: Hollie, Linda, Barbara, Lisa, Frank, Kerry, Lynelle, Margo, Jim, Kim, Ginger, Phil, Betty, Deborah, Georgie, Jennifer, Marion, Rita, Al, Leslie, and Michael.  You all rock!








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