Expressions that figuratively to livestock and other animals and animal products abound in English idiom. Here are many such morsels.
1–2. To “bring home the bacon” is to earn money at a job, but to “save (someone’s) bacon” is to help or rescue someone when they are in trouble or risking failure.
3–5. To “beef about (someone)” is to complain or criticize, but “have a beef” with someone is to hold a grudge, while to “beef up” something is to strengthen it.
6. “Where’s the beef?” is a challenge or claim indicating that an idea is without sufficient substance.
7–8. A “chicken” is a fearful person, and to “chicken out” is to opt, out of fear, not to do something.
9. A “chicken-and-egg argument” is a circuitous one.
10–12. “Chicken feed” is an insubstantial amount of money, and “chicken scratch” is illegible writing, while to “play chicken” is to engage in a standoff to determine who will back down first.
13. To say that “the chickens have come home to roost” means that consequences are imminent.
14. The exhortation “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” cautions one not to act as if a hoped-for outcome has already occurred.
15. One who is “no spring chicken” is not young anymore.
16. To “run around like a headless chicken” (or “like a chicken with its head cut off”) is to panic or worry aimlessly.
17–19. To have “bigger fish to fry” is to have more important things to do, but a “fine kettle of fish” is an unfortunate situation, while “a different kettle of fish” suggests something is unrelated to the topic
20–21. To “make hamburger” or “make mincemeat” of someone or something is to defeat or destroy the person or the thing.
22. To be a “meat-and-potatoes” person is to like simple things.
23. A “meat market” is a venue people frequent to seek sex partners.
24. Something that is “meat and drink” to someone is a skill or pastime that they enjoy and that is very easy for them.
25. One who is “dead meat” is a target for harm or punishment.
26. To say that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” is to say that what one person may like, another may dislike.
27. The “meat of the matter” is the essence of an issue or problem.
28. Something that is “pork barrel” is a government spending project cynically designed to garner support.
29. To “pork out” is to eat too much.
30. To stop “cold turkey” is to do so abruptly.
31. To “butter (someone) up” is to flatter that person.
32. To say that “butter wouldn’t melt in (one’s) mouth” is to imply that they are feigning innocence by looking calm and cool.
33. To “cheese (someone) off” is to anger or disgust someone.
34. A “big cheese” is a leader or somewhat important (sometimes jocularly rendered in French: le grande fromage).
35. To “cut the cheese” is vulgar slang meaning “produce flatulence.”
36. “Say, ‘Cheese!’” is an exhortation to smile for a photograph.
37–38. The “cream of the crop” is the best in its class; the “crème de la crème” is the best of the best.
39–40. A “good egg” is a good person, and a “bad egg” is a bad person.
41–45. To “put all (one’s) eggs in one basket” is to risk everything at once, but to “lay an egg” is to perform poorly, and to have “egg on (one’s) face” is to be left embarrassed or humiliated, while to “egg (someone) on” is to goad someone to something that is generally ill advised. A “nest egg” is a savings fund.
46. To say that one “can’t make an omelette without breaking some (or the) eggs” means that nothing can be accomplished without some difficulty.
47. To “cry over spilled milk” is to dwell over something that cannot be undone.
48. To be “full of the milk of human kindness” is to generously display kindness and/or sympathy.
49–50. To “milk (someone) for (something)” is to pressure the person, but to “milk (something) for all it’s worth” is to exploit something to the greatest extent possible.