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OK, so I've been absent. Please forgive me.

Do you enjoy animals? Then you'll enjoy this week's theme of animal phrases.

crow's–feet – wrinkles extending from the outer corner of the eye

A negative term or a positive one? You be the judge. Here's a quote each way.
    I was thirty-eight now. My hair was receding and streaked with gray, and lately I'd traced little crow's–feet etched around the corners of my eyes. I was older now …
    – Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

    Small and compact, like a jockey, John [Truman, Harry's father] had a weathered, sunburned face and crow's–feet that gave a hint of a smile around the eyes.
    – David McCullough, Truman
 
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shanks' mare – on foot; walking [using your shanks], as opposed to riding a horse, car, or other transport. [Wordcrafter note: usually in the sense of being unable to afford better.] The apostrophe tends to migrate; see quotes.
    I come, in middle age,
    to find you at twenty in high hair and long Victorian skirts
    trudging shanks' mare fifteen miles a day in Paris
    because you could not afford a carriage.
    – Anne Sexton, Walking in Paris (poem)

    Or you take the race track. I go a lot, and I usually do pretty well. … But there's plenty of times I've come home from the track on shanks' mare instead of in a taxicab with my wallet swollen up.
    – Stephen King, The Shining
 
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coon's age – a long time
    It's been a coon's age since anybody saw a black-footed ferret in the Uintah Basin of eastern Utah
    – Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), April 21, 1997

    … in those times, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., were more or less equal to Atlanta in population, but they haven't been close in a coon's age.
    – Washington Times, Jan. 27, 1994
This is a southern US regionalism, referring to the raccoon, and traced back as far as 1843. (Not related to the ugly slang meaning of 'coon' as 'negro', which arose two decades later.) Some say there was a belief that raccoons were long-lived, but I haven't seen any evidence of such a belief. I suspect that's speculative etymology.
 
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I remember my grandparents used to use that phrase. They also used the word "coon" in a perjorative way, too, but I'd better not talk about that. Eek
 
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quote:
Originally posted by wordcrafter:
shanks' mare – on foot


In my region the phrase shanks' pony is still commonly heard.
 
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mare's tails – long straight streaks of cirrus cloud [sometimes used to mean similar wispy streaks from waterfalls, waves, etc.]
    High, tattered mare's tails raced across the sky and for an hour I watched the mosque's shadowy face animated by the flickering moonbeams.
    – Telegraph, Feb. 5, 2001
And a rarer term: mackerel sky – a sky covered with many small, high cumulus clouds (resembling the markings on a mackerel); in some places called buttermilk sky

These were signs of stormy weather ahead. An old proverb [in various forms] counseled, "Mare's tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails."
 
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These three seem to go together!

mare's nest1. a muddle 2. a misconception
dog's breakfast; dog's dinnerslang: a mess
pig's breakfastcolloq.: something unattractive or unappetizing; a mess, a muddle
    See what I mean, 007? Just the sort of mares' nest these old women's societies are always stirring up. People start preserving something – churches, old houses, decaying pictures, birds – and there's always a hullabaloo of some sort. The trouble is these [sic] sort of people get really worked up about their damned birds or whatever it is.
    – Ian Fleming, Doctor No

    Most Americans are aware that our health-care system is in deep trouble, a dog's breakfast of private providers and insurers that has weak and inconsistent incentives for quality control and cost containment.
    – Daniel L. McFadden, 2000 Nobel laureate in economics, in Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16, 2007

    One evening he tried to cut his own hair, for it was falling in his eyes. … He made a pig's breakfast of the haircut …
    – Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch: Volume Two in the Wicked Years
 
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cat's meow – the "in" thing"; someone wonderful or remarkable, and popular
cat's pajamas – same
bee's knees – same
[originated as 1920s slang]
    "When we opened in 2002, we were the cat's meow," Thomas said. "We were that great new steakhouse. But the competition has gotten better."
    – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 14, 2008

    But it's not just kids who think SpongeBob is the cat's pajamas.
    – New York Daily News, Nov. 10, 2005

    "You look at a General Mills product, and it looks like the bee's knees, but it may be nutritionally flawed," said Michael Jacobson … . "It may be high in sugar even though it has fiber in it."
    – International Herald Tribune, Nov 6, 2006
 
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hornet's nest1. an angry reaction 2. a troublesome or hazardous situation

    The prime minister … was by nature a schemer. He had begun his career in the cutthroat atmosphere of academia, then moved to the hornets' nest at the Foreign Ministry. By the time he entered the political arena he was well versed in the black arts of bureaucratic treachery.
    – Daniel Silva, The Kill Artist
 
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