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Who Put Lipstick on That Pig?

Expressions about pigs, hogs and sows. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Now, the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.


Americans often use expressions about animals.

In two thousand eight, the main candidates for president each used this expression: "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig." This means that it is a waste of time to change something from ugly or unpleasant-looking to beautiful.

There are other expressions about improving a pig's appearance, like this one: "A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog." Hogs are similar to pigs, only bigger. Americans use many other expressions about pigs, hogs and female hogs called sows. Like this one: "You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." This means you cannot create something valuable from something that has no value.

In a pig's eye is another unusual expression. It means something that is not so, or will never happen. Then there is the expression casting pearls before swine. That means wasting something valuable on someone who will not be thankful or care about it.

However, at least one kind of pig can be useful in saving money. It is called a piggy bank. You can buy a small container shaped like a pig. It has a hole where a child can put money into it.

Hogs are very large animals. If you say you ate high on the hog during a holiday, it means you ate very good or costly food. If you went whole hog on your trip, it means you did everything possible to have fun. But you should never go hog-wild at any time because that means behaving badly.

Hogs take up a lot of space but people should not take up more than their share. If one of your children is taking up too much space sitting in front of the television, other children might say: "Do not hog the couch." And a road hog is a driver who uses more than his share of the road. Such a driver increases dangers for other drivers.

Pig terms are also used in American politics. Farmers mark their pigs' ears to identify them. In politics, earmarks are money set aside for projects in a congressman's home state or locality. And politicians might say there is a lot of pork in a budget proposal, meaning wasteful spending.

In many areas, pigs provide ham, bacon and other pork products to eat. All Americans want to be able to bring home the bacon. That means to earn enough money to provide the necessities of life. Experts say this term was first used in the nineteen twenties. But it is believed to come from the much older game of catching a greased pig. This was a popular event at country fairs in which the winner was awarded the pig.


This VOA Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. I'm Barbara Klein. You can find more WORDS AND THEIR STORIES at