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30 Pig Idioms and Phrases Explained

Ben has a life-long interest in language and is particularly interested in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.

pig-idioms

30 Pig Idioms and Phrases

Pigs are intelligent animals, often ridiculed due to their natural behavior of rolling in mud, foraging for scraps of food, and harsh squealing; they are all too readily tarnished with a poor reputation.

Over many generations, their antics have seeped into the English language as idioms and phrases.

The pig's influence on our lives continues in recent times, with modern-day advances in cinema and television bringing even more of the pig's attractions into people's lives. Toddlers are weened on cartoon pig characters, and we spend hours watching programs about farming and rural life.

It seems inevitable that the humble pig will continue to inspire further inclusion of idioms for years to come.

Pig Idioms Featured in This Article:

1. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

2. Buy a pig in a poke.

3. When pigs fly.

4. Sweat like a pig.

5. Piggy in the middle.

6. In a pig's eye.

7. If that don't beat a pig a-pecking.

8. Happy as a pig in mud.

9. Pigs in clover.

10. To go hog wild.

11. To go the whole hog.

12. Pigging it.

13. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

14. Everything but the squeal.

15. It ain't fitting to roll with a pig.

16. Like pigs to the slaughter.

17. Like a pig on ice.

18. Like stealing acorns from a blind pig.

19. Casting pearls before swines.

20. High on the hog.

21. A road hog.

22. As sick as a pig.

23. Happy as a pig in a puddle.

24. In a pig's whisper.

25. Wrestle with a pig.

26. Pig-headed.

27. Male-chauvinist pig.

28. Squeal like a pig.

29. To bleed like a stuck pig.

30. To stare like a stuck pig.

1. You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig, But It's Still a Pig

Meaning: To suggest that you can dress up a situation or issue to make it appear more appealing but that you cannot fundamentally change it.

Example statement: "That old jalopy has had a new paint job and the chrome polished, but it still has all the old mechanical problems and is continually breaking down. It's like they say, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

Origin: An idiom that seems to have entered the English language post-1880 (as the word lipstick first appeared at this time). The first record of a link between pigs and lipstick appeared in 1926 when the Los Angeles Times ran an article that included the phrase, "most of us know as much of history as a pig does of lipsticks." (1)

The idiom is likely modern, appearing initially in the mid-1940s when being said of a woman having her hair washed at a salon; "…who had a face like a very young pig that had managed to get hold of a lipstick." Stella Gibbons (2)

pig-idioms

2. Buy a Pig in a Poke

Meaning: A phrase suggesting something is not everything it was supposed to be.

Example sentence: "The bike looked great online, but it was far too heavy, and the steering was rubbish—I bought a real pig in the poke."

Origin: An idiom believed to have roots back in the Middle Ages. Some think that it refers to a time when meat was hard to come by but when rats and cats were not. It doesn't take much imagination to see what may have happened.

3. When Pigs Fly

Meaning: That something is implausible.

Example sentence: "I don't know why you bothered buying that lottery ticket. You know that it will only be a winner when pigs fly."

Origin: Often attributed to an English-Latin dictionary published in 1616 and written by John Withals. The expression "Pigs fly in the ayre with their tayles forward." A variation of the more recently used idiom today.

pig-idioms

4. Sweat Like a Pig

Meaning: That a person is sweating profusely.

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Example: "This heatwave is killing me. I'm sweating like a pig."

Origin: The origin of this idiom is difficult to source. It is strange to include a pig's reference in this phrase, as pigs don't have any sweat glands and cannot perspire in this way. Some believe that this idiom stems from the smelter of pig iron, which at a critical stage of manufacture, when cool enough to transport, "sweats."

5. Piggy in the Middle

Meaning: Describes a person caught in the middle of an argument between two people or groups.

Example sentence: "I did not want to offend either of them; I was like piggy in the middle."

Its never a comfortable position to be in.

Its never a comfortable position to be in.

6. In a Pigs Eye!

Meaning: A statement of disbelief. To be scornful.

Example sentence: "You want me to clean up your mess. In a pig's eye, I will!"

Origin: The origins of this expression are a little vague. It is understood to have entered the everyday language in the USA during the 19th century, with the Oxford English Dictionary endorsing the view that it is chiefly an expression used in North America and Australia.

Some people believe that there is a reference to the fact that pigs have small eyes.

7. If That Don't Beat a Pig a-Pecking

Meaning: That something is fantastic.

Example sentence: "I backed a 33 to 1 winner at the races yesterday. If that doesn't beat a pig, a-pecking."

Origin: Commonly assumed to have been borne out of American slang.

8. Happy as a Pig in Mud

Meaning: That a person is as happy as they can be.

Example sentence: "I could not be happier. I am as happy as a pig in mud!"

If you have ever seen a pig cavorting in the mud, you will understand how happy it seems to make them.

Origin: A British idiom thought to date back to circa 1870.

9. Pigs in Clover

Meaning: People who have more money than manners. Sometimes said when expressing happiness.

Example sentence: "They may have all the money in the world, but they are loud, brash, and a constant pain to their neighbors—they behave like pigs in clover."

Origin: Dates back to the early 1700s. A version of this arose during the 1900s in America, "rolling in clover." With the meaning of living well. (3)

pig-idioms

Why not take part in my Idiom test. Just fill in the missing word.

10. To Go Hog Wild

Meaning: That someone is behaving wildly.

Example sentence: "That child is unruly; he has gone hog wild."

11. To Go the Whole Hog

Meaning: An idiom suggesting a person should be extravagant, leaving nothing out.

Example sentence: "Wow! You must have spent a fortune on the house makeover. You certainly went the whole hog."

Origin: "Hog" was originally slang for "shilling"; consequently, "to go the whole hog" meant to spend the whole shilling. (4)

12. Pigging It

Meaning: To suggest that a person's living conditions are a mess and that they live like a pig. Sometimes said to indicate a person is over-eating.

Example sentence: "I couldn't believe how messy and unkept the place was; they are just pigging it."

13. You Cannot Make a Silk Purse out of a Sow's Ear

Meaning: It is impossible to make something valuable out of inferior materials.

Example sentence: "Are you relying on this new goalkeeper to save the team's reputation? I've seen him in action, and I'm telling you, you can't make a purse out of a sow's ear."

Origin: Commonly accepted that this phrase had its roots in Scotland during the late 17th century when initially a version of the words meant to draw a sword from its scabbard. However, by the late 1700s, Samuel Foote (actor and dramatist) wrote: "Who can make a silk purse of a sow's ear?" with the same meaning as inferred today. (5)

14. Everything but the Squeal

Meaning: To suggest that nothing goes to waste.

Example sentence: "I'm tired of you wasting so much of your food, now eat that last few forkfuls of meat—I want to see you eat everything but the squeal!"

Origin: Commonly accepted that this expression originated in the 1860s and was something said in pork processing plants when reminding staff that nothing should go to waste."

15. It Ain't Fitting to Roll With a Pig

Meaning: A person who is uncouth, filthy, ill-mannered, or slovenly. (6)

Example sentence: "For goodness sake, take a bath before you leave—you ain't fit to be rolling with a pig in that state."

16. Like Pigs to the Slaughter

Meaning: That something is being done obediently and in large numbers. Without concern for the danger ahead."

Example sentence: "When we all entered the meeting room, we had no idea we to be placed on notice that the factory was closing down—we were like pigs to the slaughter."

Origin: References how large groups of animals, namely pigs and sheep, are rounded up and herded into slaughterhouses (hopefully oblivious to what there are facing).

Pig Idioms — a Lesson From BBC Learning English

17. Like a Pig on Ice

Meaning: To stumble, be unsteady, or clumsy. Often said in good humor.

Example sentence: "Watching Jake attempting to cross that frozen pond was hilarious—he was like a pig on ice."

Origin: Commonly accepted that this idiom references the actions of a pig left stranded on the ice.

18. Like Stealing Acorns From a Blind Pig

Meaning: This phrase states that something is straightforward to do.

Example sentence: "Scoring goals against that team was easy; it was like stealing acorns from a blind pig."

19. Casting Pearls Before Swines

Meaning: That something or an object is useless.

Meaning: A way of saying that you are offering something of value to a person who either cannot or does not appreciate it.

Origin: This expression is from the Bible, Mathew 7:6. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

20. High on the Hog

Meaning: That someone is living a life of luxury.

Example sentence: "His life is full of fast cars, holidays, and wanting for nothing—he's high on the hog."

Origin: There are a few theories as to the source of this idiom.

a) An idiom believed to have crept into the English language during the early twentieth century. A variety of newspaper articles at that time made mention of the high cost of living and compared large corporate entities with the hog.

b) The expression is related to cuts of pork, with the most popular being from the upper part of the pig. Consequently, these cost more and were more in keeping with upper-class budgets. In contrast, cuts of pork from the pig's underbelly were more affordable and within the budgets of lower-class families.

c) The third possible origin is related to the anatomy of the pig and the suckling of piglets. This attribution relies on the understanding that milk flow via the upper row of teats is greater than the lower row and that piglets feeding from the upper row often grow bigger and stronger than their less fortunate siblings. It appears to be an area with some rationale behind it; however, as is usual with these things, it can be somewhat difficult to separate myth from fact. (7)

21. A Road Hog

Meaning: An idiom indicating that a person is thoroughly disappointed or annoyed.

Example sentence: "I was so looking forward to on holiday next week—but this broken leg has put paid to that idea—I'm as sick a pig!"

Sometimes the expression "Pig, Sick!" is heard with the same meaning.

Origin: Some contention exists over the source of this idiom, the most literal of these being an agricultural expression said by farmers and vets relating to the practice of letting animals run on a piece of land for an extended time. (8) This had the unfortunate effect of allowing parasites to build up in the soil. Consequently, pigs would suffer health issues and be prone to illness.

22. As Sick as a Pig

Meaning: An idiom indicating that a person is thoroughly disappointed or annoyed.

Example sentence: "I was so looking forward to on holiday next week—but this broken leg has put paid to that idea—I'm as sick a pig!"

Sometimes the expression "Pig, Sick!" is heard with the same meaning.

Origin: Some contention exists over the source of this idiom, the most literal of these being an agricultural expression said by farmers and vets relating to the practice of letting animals run on a piece of land for an extended time. (8) This had the unfortunate effect of allowing parasites to build up in the soil. Consequently, pigs would suffer health issues and be prone to illness.

23. Happy as a Pig in a Puddle

Meaning: An idiom indicating that a person is joyful.

Example sentence: "This holiday has been refreshing and a joy; I'm as happy as a pig in a puddle."

There are many variations of this expression, all with the same meaning:

  • Happy as a pig in muck
  • Happy as a pig in slop
  • Happy as a pig in clover

All are rooted in the joy that pigs seem to feel when indulging in these activities.

Happy as a pig in a puddle.

Happy as a pig in a puddle.

24. In a Pig's Whisper

Meaning: Something that happened very quickly.

Example: "There is no need to be impatient. I'll be with you in a pig's whisper!"

Origin: Evidence of this idiom dates as far back as 1780 when O'Keeffe, J. wrote an Irish play called Tony Lumpkin in Town; within this play is the line: "I'll be with them in a pig's whisper." (9)

25. Wrestle With a Pig

Meaning: That your act of assistance is futile. The person you are attempting to help enjoys and encourages their struggle too much.

As anyone who has attempted to catch and hold onto a pig in mud will confirm, it is a futile task that the pig seems to enjoy.

Example sentence: "I don't know why I try so hard to help them improve their lot! At times it feels like I am wrestling with a pig."

Many famous people from history seem to have this phrase attributed to them, Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, to name just two. However, the most commonly accepted source of this quote is George Bernard Shaw, who reputedly said: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig, you get dirty; and besides, the pig likes it." There is ongoing debate as to the reliability of this attribution.

26. Pig-headed

Meaning: To stubbornly refuse to listen.

Example sentence: "I pleaded with Josh to change his mind about walking out of college without thinking of the consequences—but as usual, he wasn't listening and being pig-headed."

Origin: References to this idiom have been uncovered dating back to the early 17th century. (10)

27. Male-chauvinist Pig

Meaning: A term of abuse. Describes a man who is aggressive to, or domineering of, women.

Example sentence: "He seems nice, but once you get to know him, he can be such a male-chauvinist pig."

Origin: This is an expression coined by the Women's lib movement.

28. Squeal Like a Stuck Pig

Meaning: That someone made a fuss about nothing.

Example sentence: "He squealed like a pig, and I thought he had lost a finger. It turns out he had merely scratched his hand."

Origin: Commonly understood to have originated from India in the 1820s, when British cavalrymen would participate in the act (some say sport) of hunting wild pigs. The pigs would often squeal when struck by the cavalry officers' lances.

29. To Bleed Like a Stuck Pig

Meaning: That a person is bleeding profusely. A version of the above idiom.

Example sentence: "He gashed his arm on a broken window-pane, and he is bleeding like a stuck pig—he needs to get to the hospital quick."

Origin: A variation of the above idiom.

30. To Stare Like a Stuck Pig

Meaning: This idiom describes a person who is open-mouthed and wide-eyed with fear or amazement.

Example sentence: "He couldn't believe it when I told him we had just won the lottery; he just stood there staring at me like a stuck pig."

References:

1. "Lipstick on a pig." (August 14, 2022)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick_on_a_pig

2. Gibbons, Stella. "Westwood" (1946)

3. Ammer, C. November 6, (2013). "The Dictionary of Cliches."

4. Gulland, D. and Hinds-Howell, D. (2002). "Dictionary of English Idioms." Penguin Reference.

5. Treguer, P. "Origin of You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." Word Histories.net. Read 3rd October 2022.

https://wordhistories.net/2016/12/28/silk-purse-sows-ear/

6. Spears, R. (2006). "McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs."

7. Balzani, A. (2016). "Relationships of sow udder morphology with piglets suckling behaviour and teat access."

https://www.sciencedirect.com/article/abs/pii/S0093691X16302616

8. Quinion, M (1996). "Pig Sick." World Wide Words.org.

9. "Pig's Whisper." (August 27, 2010) Languagehat.com

https://languagehat.com/pigs-whisper

10. "Pig-headed." Read 7th October 2022. Etymonline.com

https://www,etymonline.com/word/pig-headed

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