Friday, October 26, 2012

In a pig's eye

In the room where I write this there is a pig-shaped hat with wings that flap when one pulls on the chin strap, a pig that plays music when one bumps its nose, a flute in the shape of a pig and various other pig images. I acquired none of these for myself. They are all the result, over a period of years, of a foolish comment made to my wife that I rather like pigs.

In fact, I do rather like pigs. Growing up in a rural environment, pigs were my favorites among the farm animals. They were amusing to watch and always seemed a bit more intelligent than the other animals. Also, as a long-time diabetic, I survived for many years thanks to insulin derived from pigs. Pigs, you might say, saved my life, so I am not going to ban them, or at least their images, from my den.

From common words and phrases involving pigs, it is apparent that not everyone through history has shared my attitude toward pigs. Pearls before swine. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Piggishness. Hogwash. Hog-wild. A pig in a poke. Pigheaded. Sweat like a pig. High on the hog. Pig out. Pig Latin. Pig pen (when used to refer to a messy room, such as my den). None of these is at all flattering to our pig friends. Many people, obviously don't like pigs for anything other than pork chops and bacon, and people of some religious faiths don't even like them for that.

Pigs are responsible for some more flattering English words, even if their connection to the words is not so obvious. as Katherine Barber explains in her book Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do with Pigs. The six words are these:

porcelain - Derived from an Italian word for a female pig.

screw - From a Latin word for a female pig.

soil - Perhaps not so flattering to pigs, after all. The word refers to the mud in which little pigs like to play.

porpoise - Pig fish.

root - Digging around, as pigs are known to do.

swain - This word started out as swineherd and now refers to a male lover.

Pigs, it seems, have given us much more than pork chops and bacon - and insulin. They have bestowed on us a richer language.

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