There was this Chinese TV quiz show and one question was a multiple choice question about English sayings/idioms. It went something like this:

In the English idiom, someone who "eats like a [fill in the blank]" is someone who eats a lot or has a huge appetite:

(a) King (b) Mouse (c) Horse (d) Dog

I didn't think any of the four possible choices constituted an English idiom. Is one of the above four choices even an answer to the question? And if so, which is it?

Added information: The answer given in the game show was indeed "Horse". I was surprised because I have never in my life heard anyone use the expression "eat like a horse", although I have heard "eat like a king" (albeit only on a few occasions). Also I've seen dogs and horses eating, and it seems that horses eat in a calm, reasonably slow pace, whereas dogs always eat like they've been starving for days. Hence, "eat like a horse" made no sense to me at all.

  • It's not an idiom. It's a metaphor or, more precisely, it's a simile. But the original question is right if it referred to it as a saying/idiom. Oct 26, 2014 at 15:27
  • I don't think eat like a horse is particularly common anyway. I(f we just look at the last few decades, {I} could eat a horse is over twice as common (though admittedly, that means I'm really hungry right now, rather than I always want to eat a lot). Oct 26, 2014 at 15:33
  • @FumbleFingers Out here in cowboy country, our horses don't give much thought to our pocketbooks when it comes to eating. This led someone once to caution me about adopting a horse myself, for that very reason. Do horses eat with more concern to their diets and their keepers budgets elsewhere? (Eat's like a pig IS more common, but it's also a bit nastier expression.) Oct 26, 2014 at 16:04
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    @Canis: To eat like a pig is always derogatory, and normally refers to messy, greedy, selfish eating. Eating like a horse is actually more likely to be used approvingly (as with trencherman), of someone who eats heartily, with a healthy appetite. Oct 26, 2014 at 16:48
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    When I saw your title (i.e. without the four options to even suggest an answer), I immediately said "horse". It was a very common saying when (/ where) I was growing up. Given the number of people here claiming never to have heard it, it may be somewhat regional and/or less fashionable now (I still use it).
    – Glen_b
    Oct 26, 2014 at 22:43

6 Answers 6


Eat like a horse historically speaking: (from Idoomation.wordexpress)

  • If someone says that you eat like a horse, it mean you are eating, or have eaten, a lot of food. In some instances this is a compliment while in others it’s an insult. It all depends on the situation and the people involved. Interestingly enough, in French the expression is “manger comme un ogre” (translation: eat like an ogre) or “manger comme quatre” (translation: eat as if one was four)

  • The Baltimore Sun ran an article on December 28, 1952 entitled, “Add One Elephant > To The Holiday Toll.”

    • A person may be as hungry as a bear and may eat like a horse but there are definite limits beyond that.
  • Thee Pittsburgh Press ran an advertisement espousing the benefits of The Reese Formula R-11 in its August 9, 1920 edition.

    • I can eat like a horse, sleep like a country boy and feel like a 16-year old boy. If you wish to sue my name you are at liberty
  • Back on July 12, 1882 the St. Joseph Daily Gazette in St. Joseph, Missouri published an article on Tug Wilson, the English pugilist.

    • He can now skip about like a squirrel, eat like a horse, and move about like a champion pugilist.
  • Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this expression however there appears to be a jump between the expression “work like a horse” and “eat like a horse.” The former expression dates back to at least 1520 when horses replaced oxen and began to pull carts, wagons, carriages, chariots and sleighs.

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    Worth mentioning that "Eats like a king" is also an idiom, it just means something slightly different: The person eats rich, high-quality food (and possibly more of it than necessary). Oct 27, 2014 at 9:30
  • Google and Gutenberg were able to push it back to 1728: William Byrd's Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina. "This man had an odd Constitution, he eat like a Horse"
    – richardb
    Oct 27, 2014 at 15:06

Yeah, the proper answer to their question is most certainly "horse". Someone who "eats like a horse" can put away a lot of food. Someone who "eats like a pig" is poorly mannered while eating, making a mess and resembling a pig feeding at a trough. To "eat like a king" means to have the highest quality and/or quantity of food available to choose to eat, like a "King's feast". Someone who "eats like a bird" is the exact opposite of someone who "eats like a horse" in that they barely eat any food, as if they are pecking at it like a bird. I've also heard the term "eats like a mule" used to mean the same thing as horse. Hope this helps.

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    Of course, it should be noted that birds often eat twice their own weight in a day, so "eating like a bird" can really mean "pigging out".
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 27, 2014 at 1:57
  • Haha- well, "horse-ing out" really, since birds aren't usually too messy when they eat. But yeah, duly noted. ;) Gave me a chuckle...
    – Ron Kyle
    Oct 28, 2014 at 19:25
  • It's interesting to note that (to me) "eating like a horse" doesn't imply either messiness or overeating, but simply a "healthy" appetite. "Eating like a pig", however, implies being a messy eater (and one with poor table manners). In contrast, "pigging out" means overeating but not necessarily being messy (though daintiness is certainly not implied).
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 28, 2014 at 19:31
  • Perhaps that is because eating like a pig would be HOW a pig actually eats, whilst "pigging out" means you are eating in such a way that you will become fat like a pig... wonder why there is no "horse-ing out" or "bird-ing out". Geez, now I'm about to go look up the etymology of the phrase "pig out". Hehehe- what a day
    – Ron Kyle
    Oct 28, 2014 at 19:55

To eat like a horse is to always eat a lot of food.


Of the four, the horse is the "largest." Therefore, "eat like a horse" is to eat like a large animal, or "a lot."

To "eat like a king" would be to eat expensive food (kings are rich). One king, Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, had "roast beef" every day for lunch.

To "eat like a mouse" would be to eat little (opposite of a horse).

To "eat like dog" would be to eat in a careless, sloppy manner.


I've personally never heard the phrase, "eat like a horse." The closest I've heard is, "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." Clearly, that's not the same thing.

That being said, the phrase "eat like kings" is legitimate, and still used to this day. As the previous answers stated, "eat like a horse" is somewhat obsolete, but it's probably the intended answer. Pig would've been a much better choice, and King would've been more accurate than Horse.

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    To "eat like a King" suggests that you're eating very well, not merely large quantities. Someone who eats like a king is probably having carefully prepared meals with expensive ingredients. Nobody would say that someone who ate a huge amount of oatmeal was "eating like a King."
    – barbecue
    Oct 26, 2014 at 18:09
  • @barbecue I'm not sure if I'd call someone scarfing down oatmeal a "pig" either...possibly a horse because horses eat oats.
    – TonyArra
    Oct 26, 2014 at 18:51
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    If the person eating the oatmeal was doing so in a sloppy, noisy and messy manner, getting splashes of oatmeal on their face and the surrounding area, then yes, they would be eating like a pig. If they were merely eating quicky and in large volumes, eating like a horse would be more appropriate. BTW I used oatmeal because it's not a fancy or expensive food, generally not something you'd regard as fine dining. I wasn't thinking in terms of horses and oats.
    – barbecue
    Oct 26, 2014 at 19:33
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    Poor pigs. Always maligned, no matter how daintily they eat their oatmeal or crumpets at table.
    – Drew
    Oct 26, 2014 at 20:23
  • IIRC, at least some "authorities" state that "eat a horse" is sort of a hyperbole derived from "eat like a horse", the implication being that if eating like a horse is eating a lot, actually eating the horse is eating even more.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 27, 2014 at 0:23

In India we call it as elephant appetite. It is because ancient Indians dealt with lot of elephants. They even had it as pets.

  • That's pretty interesting... do you use different animals for the other sayings, the same animals, or completely different sayings that don't even use animals?
    – Ron Kyle
    Oct 28, 2014 at 19:27
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    Ron, that actually depends. Some sayings use the same animal. Others use different ones. Example for 'Barking dogs seldom bite' we us the same animal. But for "Every dog has its day", we use a combination of cat and elephant which means "If a favorable time comes for elephant, definitely cat will also have such favorable time in future". There are other case where proverbs in English will not have animals but here the same will have animal mention. Example "Before the elephant can be seen, the sound of its bell around the neck can be heard" which means "April showers bring forth may flowers"
    – Jophine
    Oct 31, 2014 at 10:04

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