A greeting by someone who hadn’t seen another person for a long time caught my intrigue recently at a local restaurant. In fact, it led to a major discussion on all of the animal expressions out there and “why” or “how” they might have been started.

To top it off, someone a few days later threw in the expression, “I haven’t seen them in a month of Sundays.” That one isn’t too hard to figure out. Literally, a “month of Sundays” would be four Sundays or four weeks. However, I’ve never heard anyone say, “gracious, I haven’t seen you in four weeks.”

But back to the animals, where did it all start; “let sleeping dogs lie,” “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” “don’t put the cart before the horse,” “stop horsing around,” “don’t let the cat out of the bag,” or, “it’s raining cats and dogs.”

I’ll never forget ole’ Andy Thomas, a homespun carpenter whose work was plush and beautiful. The day he delivered a homemade library cart to church in Illinois, I helped unload the masterpiece.

“Careful, he said, of his neatly varnished cart.

“This is slipperier than a wet hen on a hot rock.”

I never did quite figure out what that one meant. We raised chickens when I was a child, but never in my lifetime have a seen a wet hen actually sliding off of a hot rock!

Some “animal expressions” make enough sense that it’s easy to understand where it all started.

To “Let the cat out of the bag,” is to reveal a secret.

To “rain cats and dogs,” means to rain heavily, although I’m not sure why that got started.

To “fight like cats and dogs,” makes more sense, especially for those who have siblings.

To “not put the cart before the horse,” means to not line up events in the wrong order.

Even such expressions as, “crazier than a hornet’s nest,” “busy as a bee,” “laughing like a hyena,” and looking at things from a “bird’s eye view,” are pretty simple to figure out.

I’ve never quite understood about how I feel when I feel, “sheepish.” I understand it to mean, “hesitant,” or a little, “squeamish,” but I’ve never been around sheep enough to catch the point completely. I do know that the Good Book indicates that sheep need to be led or they don’t like to go. In that sense, I guess we all feel a bit, “sheepish” from time to time.

I even felt a bit “sheepish” about writing this column, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I had enough to go on with the idea. Perhaps it might have been better had I “held my horses” (hesitated) or would have at least considered the idea a “dark horse,” (an idea whose success is not yet known).

The web site, “angelfire.com,” devotes an entire segment grappling with the question, “do you speak animal language?”

That site states that, “Animals make our language pregnant with symbols. Man is intelligent enough to draw short-cuts to reach the exact meaning he wants to deliver without using long wining sentences. He uses animals instead in his metaphors, similes and others to express himself.”

It’s true that animal metaphors are a great way of conveying meaning beyond the usage of human expressions. For us country people, it kind of gets us off the hook when we can say that someone makes us so nervous that we could have kittens. On the other hand, I wonder what folks would think 200 years from now if they uncovered that expression? Would they take it literally?

At that point, it might also be difficult to reference the fact that “cats have nine lives” and on the other hand express that “curiosity killed the cat.” That comparison even makes me realize that at times it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

“Where did this silliness all coming from,” you might ask. I don’t know, just blame the lady that walked into the restaurant and started the whole conversation. From that point on, we’ll just say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”