Monday 14 May 2018

Some Concealed Pigs

The wart is below the eye.
The pig is a curious creature. We all think we know what it is: that dear old, rather intelligent thing, rootling around in the mud and stuffed with lovely bacon.

And then one considers the guinea pig, which contains no bacon at all.

Then one thinks further and you realise that there's the hedge-hog. And the groundhog and the warthog and the road hog and that none of them, except maybe the last, contains bacon. And of course a wart-hog is just that. It's a hog with what appear to be warts. But a guinea pig doesn't look like a pig at all. Nor does a hedgehog. A hedgehog looks a bit like a porcupine.

And then, if you mull of the word porcupine enough:




You suddenly realise that a porcupine is merely a pork with spines, from the Old French porc-espin. It's enough to make a strictly kosher chap run screaming for the ocean, where of course there are no pigs at all. Unless a sea-pig existed. And there may be sea-lions and sea-horses but, surely there is no pigfish. Not even in Old French. That would be a porc peis - from the Latin pisces. Or porpais as it was by the twelfth century.

And then you realise your true porpoise in life.

The only possible way to relax is to visit the provinces and read poetry. So you quietly retreat to Swindon with a copy of Swinburne. And you know that don means hill and that burn means stream, but don't whatever you do think any further.

Incidentally, the Dutch don't say pearls before swine, they say roses before swine*, which I somehow think is prettier.

None of this has anything much to do with my new book A Short History of Drunkenness, which has just been released in America. But, if you're American and interested in history, or drunkenness, or if you're simply short, you should immediately buy a copy. You can do so by the simple expedient of following this link.

The Inky Fool found he'd been talking at crossed porpoises

*Or that's what I read, but see the comments.


  1. The Dutch expression is “parels voor de zwijnen”, ie pearls before swine. Native speaker here, never heard of an expression with roses.

    1. How odd. I speak not a word of Dutch, so I shall put in a crafty disclaimer. Thank you.

  2. I've always called wood lice "granny grunters". I discovered a few years ago that this is specific to the south of the Isle of Man and those from Douglas and the north of the island referred to them as "Parson's pigs" - a term I'd managed to live 30 years without hearing. How woodlice came to be known by two different swine related terms used exclusively 12 miles apart is a mystery!

  3. At least we also follow the porc-espin pattern in Portuguese, with porco-espinho.

    Wish there was an article somewhere explaining this -inho/a suffix that we have in Portuguese. Devagar is slow... but devagarzinho is little slow... but in Portuguese it has another meaning. Almost as another word. Describing something that is either a bit slow, or slowly in a sensual or intentional comical way? Like espinho, which comes from Latin spina, which also gave origin to espinha... espinho can be a rose thorn. Or any kind of thorn/spike.

    Espinha, different then espinho, is spine in English. Espinha is also the pin bones of a fish in Portuguese. And espinha is also an acne.

    And even though espinha and espinho appear to be in the diminutive (like in the Despacito song title, from Spanish, which is the diminutive of Despacio, and means slow, slowly), in Portuguese we can put the word espinha (which looks to be already in the diminutive) in the diminutive, as "espinhazinha".

    Anywho... came here just to say that in Brazilian Portuguese the guinea pig is also a pig, even not being a pig...

    But it is a small-little-pig... for it is indeed small. But of course it is not from Guinea! What an absurd!

    For us that's an Indian Little Pig. Of course. A "porquinho da india". Porquinho is the diminutive for pork/porco.