Anyone who was paying attention during the presidential election of 2008 will remember the numerous times the idiom, “like putting lipstick on a pig,” was employed. The entire idiom continued, “It’s still a pig.” While it’s a humorous idiom, it was used in a sexist, nasty way to refer to Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for Vice-President. The point was being made that she was not a qualified candidate for the second highest office in the United States, and that dressing her up wouldn’t change her qualifications. It followed a period in the campaign when the former Governor of Alaska, known more for her jean, sweatshirts and hunting rifle, was taken to a high-end women’s clothing salon in Manhattan and outfitted with numerous designer-quality clothes to make her more “presentable.” It was a rough period for her and for the Republicans.
While watching the baseball debacle of a Baltimore-Boston baseball game on Sunday I heard Jerry Remy, the color commentator for NESN, comment on the outrageous score (18-7) by which the Red Sox were humiliated. He said something which is a variation on this pig idiom,
After this game, somebody’s going to have to put a bow on this pig.”
It was simply a variation on the same theme. I happen to think there isn’t a bow big enough to make this pig look any better. It was a disaster.
The point Remy was making was just that. This is such a bad showing for the Red Sox, somebody’s going to have to find a way to make it seem better than it was. Not really. It was just a bad game. Move on.
Pig comments are abundant. There are many idioms having to do with pigs, who are evidently seen as the lower form of animal life in farm culture. Except, of course, for those who have gotten to know pigs really well and discovered that they are intelligent, can be vicious, and are a valuable commodity in America’s meat market.
In recent years, tiny “pot bellied pigs” or “teacup pigs” have become popular as pets, even in apartments in large cities. They can even be house-trained. I have seen people walking down the street in busy New York City with a pig on a leash. Not for me, but obviously some people get pleasure from owning one as a pet.
But for most people, pigs are seen as dirty, crude, and undesirable. Their reputation for filth comes from the fact that they live in the mud, which is constantly stirred up by their sharp, pointed hooves. They love to wallow in the mud to keep insects off their backs, and to keep cool on hot days. Farmers will tell you that actually, pigs are clean, intelligent, and friendly. When hungry or agitated, however, pigs are known to rip a carcass apart, even a human one if given the chance.
To put a pig in a bow is a silly concept, unless, of course, it is Porky Pig of Disney fame, who wears a bow tie. But it isn’t a term that is meant to be taken literally. It is an idiom with a meaning behind it.
Illustration Credit: Martinus van Tee