Tuesday, November 15, 2016

High on the Hog? In a Pig's Ear

Image result for vintage pig in mud public domain
We had pork chops for dinner the other day, and Larry said, "We're eatin' high on the hog tonight!" Which got me to thinking about all the ways we refer to hogs or pigs to describe behavior, feelings, and other aspects of our life.


Eat like a pig: if you have ever watched a pig eat, you need no explanation! They are messy, selfish and outright belligerent at the feed trough, pushing each other out of the way, putting their feet in the trough and splashing their mash everywhere. 





The best meat on a hog is, in most opinions, the tenderloin. Which is high on the hog, running along both sides of the spine. Some people cut it into butterfly steaks, others cut it. along with the bone, into pork chops.  So if you're eating high on the hog, you're eating the very best.


Hog-tied: People sometimes tied all four feet of an animal's feet together to subdue the animal. It's unkind for sure. It rendered the animal helpless, and so now when we use the term, that's exactly what we mean. "I couldn't do a thing about it, he had me hogtied!" 


Sweating like a pig: this one is a bit puzzling, since pigs don't actually sweat. That's why they need wallows to keep cool.An alternative explanation for this term is that it refers to the iron-smelting process. Wikipedia can explain it better than I can:

"Pig iron is the intermediate product of smelting iron ore. It is the molten iron from the blast furnace, which is a large and cylinder-shaped furnace charged with iron ore, coke, and limestone. Charcoal and anthracite have also been used as fuel. Pig iron has a very high carbon content, typically 3.5–4.5%,[1] along with silica and other constituents of dross, which makes it very brittle and not useful directly as a material except for limited applications. The traditional shape of the molds used for pig iron ingots was a branching structure formed in sand, with many individual ingots at right angles[2] to a central channel or runner, resembling a litter of piglets being suckled by a sow. When the metal had cooled and hardened, the smaller ingots (the pigs) were simply broken from the runner (the sow), hence the name pig iron.[3] As pig iron is intended for remelting, the uneven size of the ingots and the inclusion of small amounts of sand caused only insignificant problems considering the ease of casting and handling them." Apparently these little "pigs" could lose moisture during processing.

Pig in a poke: A poke, as you probably know, is a bag or sack. So if you're buying a pig in a poke, you're buying something sight unseen--you're taking a chance on an unknown quantity. 

Throwing pearls to swine: Another self-explanatory term, I think! Pigs would eat those pearls, definitely, and not even blink. Except maybe Babe or Miss Piggie. They might actually appreciate the finer things in life. This one has biblical roots, from Matthew 7:6, Jesus's Sermon on the Mount: "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."
In a pig's ear: this one is harder to track down. It means that the likelihood of something happening is pretty remote, as in "I'd vote for him in a pig's ear!" Locally, I have heard that asking for a pig's ear during Prohibition meant you wanted to buy a little whiskey. 

Making a silk purse from a sow's ear: This one is pretty old, dating back to a book written by the English clergyman Stephen Gosson, who published the story Ephemerides in 1579. In one passage he described people trying to do something impossible as "Seekinge too make a silke purse of a Sowes eare." I tend to use the phrase to describe trying to make something look better than it really is.

Road hog: We've all seen them--they take up more than they're share of the road, and don't really seem to care. And if you have seen a hog's behavior at a trough, you understand the resemblance.

Image result for vintage hog public domainHog-wild: When our pigs would get out of their pen, it was all we could do to try to herd them back in. It was almost impossible--they'd run around in all directions, grunting and squealing and literally kicking up their heels. The true wild hogs behave the same way, and are dangerous to boot, unpredictable and very, very fast. 

Hog heaven: a contented pig is a lovely thing. They almost smile as they nestle with their full bellies into their nice soft beds of hay after having a good wallow in the mud. They truly look like they're in hog heaven. So if you're in hog heaven, you're over the moon, on top of the mountain, over the rainbow, etc.

Going whole hog: all in! Like the sausage of the same name, pretty much putting everything you've got (except maybe your squeal?) into something. Like having all your eggs in one basket!

There are probably a lot more. Do you know of any I've missed here? I'd love to hear them!


Pigs can predict the weather too. "A January fog will freeze a hog" means fog in January will late frosts in Spring. If you should see pigs building their nests, or running around with straw or hay in their mouths, look for the weather to turn cold. Squealing pigs mean a change in weather is coming. Scratching their backs on a fence means rain is on the way, but if they're laying in the mud look for a dry spell.  Some people look to the hog's spleen at butchering time to predict the coming winter's weather. 

I'll end today's post with this favorite folktale from Joseph Jacobs:

The Old Woman and Her Pig


An old woman was sweeping her house, and she found a little crooked sixpence. “What,” said she, “shall I do with this little sixpence? I will go to market, and buy a little pig.”

As she was coming home, she came to a stile: but the piggy wouldn’t go over the stile.

She went a little further, and she met a dog. So she said to the dog: “Dog! bite pig; piggy won’t go over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the dog wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a stick. So she said: “Stick! stick! beat dog! dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the stick wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a fire. So she said: “Fire! fire! burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the fire wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met some water. So she said: “Water, water! quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the water wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met an ox. So she said: “Ox! ox! drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the ox wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a butcher. So she said: “Butcher! butcher! kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the butcher wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a rope. So she said: “Rope! rope! hang butcher; butcher won’t kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the rope wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a rat. So she said: “Rat! rat! gnaw rope; rope won’t hang butcher; butcher won’t kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the rat wouldn’t.

She went a little further, and she met a cat. So she said: “Cat! cat! kill rat; rat won’t gnaw rope; rope won’t hang butcher; butcher won’t kill ox; ox won’t drink water; water won’t quench fire; fire won’t burn stick; stick won’t beat dog; dog won’t bite pig; piggy won’t get over the stile; and I shan’t get home to-night.” But the cat said to her, “If you will go to yonder cow, and fetch me a saucer of milk, I will kill the rat.” So away went the old woman to the cow.

But the cow said to her: “If you will go to yonder hay-stack, and fetch me a handful of hay, I’ll give you the milk.” So away went the old woman to the haystack and she brought the hay to the cow.

As soon as the cow had eaten the hay, she gave the old woman the milk; and away she went with it in a saucer to the cat.

As soon as the cat had lapped up the milk, the cat began to kill the rat; the rat began to gnaw the rope; the rope began to hang the butcher; the butcher began to kill the ox; the ox began to drink the water; the water began to quench the fire; the fire began to burn the stick; the stick began to beat the dog; the dog began to bite the pig; the little pig in a fright jumped over the stile, and so the old woman got home that night.

Some days I feel like this little old woman--the faster I go, the behinder I get! Have a great day, all, and check your hogs for their weather predictions.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

2 comments:

Mac n' Janet said...

We do indeed talk about those pigs a lot!

Brig said...

I didn't know all those pig phrases, but most of them, showing my age. Got my FIL a book of the history behind some of our phrases for Christmas one year. We all had so much fun guessing and reading.

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