20 Idioms About Reptiles

By Mark Nichol

The phrases and expressions listed in this post pertain to lizards and other reptiles, usually with a pejorative or otherwise negative allusion that reflects the dim view many people have of such animals.

1. After a while, crocodile: A lighthearted response to the rhyming slang “See you later, alligator”

2. Crocodile tears: Hypocritical or insincere expression of remorse or sadness, from the traditional belief that alligators shed tears to lure prey or when they are eating prey

3. If it was a snake it would have bit you: A hyperbolic observation that an object one seeks is nearby and obviously visible

4. Lot lizard: Derogatory slang for prostitutes who solicit in parking lots frequented by truck drivers

5. Lounge lizard: The male equivalent of a gold digger, a man who frequently visits bars and clubs in order to meet women, especially wealthy older women, to sexually or financially exploit them; the phrase alludes to such a man’s primitive impulses

6–9. Nurse/nurture a snake/viper in (one’s) bosom: To harbor someone that turns on his or her benefactor; a reference to one of Aesop’s fables, in which a snake bites a person who had taken care of it when it was injured

10. See you later, alligator: A humorous rhyming farewell, the traditional response to which is “After a while, crocodile” (sometimes abridged to “Later, alligator”)

11. Seeing snakes: Drunk to the point of hallucinating that one sees snakes where they are not (compare “pink elephants”)

12. Snake eyes: A slang reference to a roll of two dice in which only one spot shows on each, suggestive of the eyes of a snake

13. Snake in the grass: A deceitful person who pretends to befriend one for his or her own benefit

14–15. Snake oil/snake oil salesman: A fake remedy or solution, from the tradition of purveyors of such products offering them to gullible would-be customers; a snake oil salesman (traditionally, generally only men engaged in this practice, so the term is gender specific) is a person offering fake remedies or solutions

16. Snakes and ladders: A board game for children involving beneficial ladders and snakes that function as obstacles

17. Tortoise and the hare: An allusion to the wisdom of steady perseverance, from the characters in one of Aesop’s fables, about a plodding, methodical tortoise that wins a race against a fast but overconfident hare

18. Turn turtle: Turn upside down, from the notion of a turtle being overturned, unable to right itself

19. Turtle heading: The act, imitative of a turtle’s head extending from its shell, of looking over the top of an office cubicle wall to satisfy one’s curiosity about a stimulus (also called prairie dogging)

20. Up to (one’s) neck in alligators: A metaphorical reference to losing sight of one’s goal when overcome or preoccupied by pressures, from the expression “When you are up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget that the goal was to drain the swamp”

Recommended for you: « »



7 Responses to “20 Idioms About Reptiles”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Beware of people who are like this:
    as old as a dinosaur, as mean as a snake, as hungry as a T-Rex, and as wicked as a witch!

  • Dale A. Wood

    More idioms about reptiles: “As slow as a turtle”,
    “As mean as a snake” (heard many times while growing up in the South), (e.g. pit vipers).
    “As old as a dinosaur” (just like some of my English teachers in school).
    “As hungry as a dinosaur” (e.g. a Tyrannosaurus Rex).
    Mean snakes Down South: copperheads, water moccasins (the “cottonmouth”), rattlesnakes – especially the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
    Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes do not live north of southern Virginia because the winters are too long and cold for them to survive up north. Hence, there are no diamondback rattlesnakes in Washington, D.C., though there often seem to be some on Capitol Hill.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The word “golddigger” is actually one word, just like this: “golddigger”. This is the way that it was on the old “Jackie Gleason Show” on TV – a very popular one that ran for years. (I was popular with my father.)
    Compare this word with “gravedigger”, “coalminer”, “sandhog”, “moonwalker”, “shipwrecker”, and “trainwrecker”.
    By the way, there was a Soviet missile that was given the NATO call name of the “Shipwreck” missile. It was an antiship missile, too, just as the “Blackjack” was a Soviet bomber. (There is a kind of a blackjack that is used to clout people with. This is not the game of “blackjack”.)
    Thus “Shipwreck” and “Blackjack” were both very threatening code names for weapons.
    The kind of Soviet submarine called the “Akula” was actually the Soviet Navy’s name for it. In Russia, “akula” means “shark”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The phrase “to turn turtle” is actually most applicable to ships and boats. For example, the battleship USS “Oklahoma” turned turtle at her berth in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The old, old (empty) battleship USS “Utah” also turned turtle in Pearl Harbor, and her wreckage is still there. The “Utah” was actually ready for scrapping.
    The German battleship “Tirpitz” turned turtle in the Altenfjord in northern Norway when she was bombed, using superheavy bombs, by the Royal Air Force in 1944. The remains of the “Tirpitz” are still there.
    During a very bad typhoon in the Western Pacific in 1945, three American destroyers turned turtle and sank between Taiwan and Okinawa. Ironically, one of the ships that was lost was the USS “Hull”, and for part of a day, she was showing her hull to the world.
    Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., in command of the U.S. Third Fleet, was nearly dismissed, court-martialed, and severely punished – for negligence in not being aware of and avoiding that typhoon. After all, the Third Fleet had lots of aircraft carriers, and its commander should have seen airplanes out on wide-ranging weather patrols at such a place and time.
    The Chief of Naval Operations declined to send Halsey to trial and punishment because of Halsey’s immense success in defeating the Japanese during 1942-44.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The actual expression is “Up to your ass in alligators.”
    The alliteration is an important part of its impact.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A “lounge lizard” is also a musician. This is the kind – usually a male – who frequents the lounges (especially of) hotels and motels**, with his instruments, to earn a living. Also seen & heard in assorted nightclubs, saloons, pubs, etc., and seen in small groups (bands) that tour together in small groups. Several such groups of lounge lizards were seen in the film “The Blues Brothers”. Look for them.
    Some lounge lizards have “day jobs”, and so they try to “earn some extra dough” whenever they can “get a gig”. I have seen and known such people as engineers, technologists, and schoolteachers doing this.
    By the way, in North America the two largest groups of professionals at work are these:
    1. Schoolteachers,
    2. Engineers.
    Both of these groups outnumber architects, aviators, biologists, chemists, doctors, dentists, lawyers, optometrists, pharmacists, clinical psychologists, etc.
    If you want to define “professionals”, this means people who are licensable in their work by the various states & provinces, and/or the national government, and their work requires a higher level of education, such as a bachelor’s degree.
    (Sorry, registered nurses, most of whom only have a two-year degree.)
    **e.g. the Holiday Inn, the Sheridan, Marriott’s, the Hilton Inn, …

    For example, I have been eligible to become a licensed professional engineer, but I have never needed a license, and I have never bothered. On the other hand, in such fields of public works as civil engineering, construction engineering, mechanical engineering, and architecture, such licensing is frequently essential.

  • Peter Buxton

    6-9 The ‘Farmer and the Viper’ by Aesop was turned into a song, ‘The Snake’, by the brilliant Oscar Brown jr.
    https://youtu.be/TxVymZxekEw (I don’t think this posts as a hyperlink.)
    Even Mr. Trump alluded to this song in his election speeches (when referring to Syrian refugees I believe).

Leave a comment: