Pigs in popular culture

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Painting of Saint Anthony with pig in background by Piero di Cosimo c. 1480

Pigs, widely present in world cultures, have taken on many meanings and been used for many purposes in popular culture and literature. As one scholar puts it, people all over the world have made swine stand for "extremes of human joy or fear, celebration, ridicule, and repulsion." [1] They have become synonymous with negative attributes, especially greed, gluttony, and uncleanliness, and these ascribed attributes have often led to critical comparisons between pigs and humans.[2]

In religion[edit]

  • In Nordic Mythology, "Gold-Bristle" or "Gold-Mane" was Freyr's golden boar, created by the dwarves Brokk and Sindri as part of a challenge. His shining fur is said to fill the sky, trees, and sea with light.
  • In ancient Egypt, pigs were associated with Set, the rival to the sun god Horus. When Set fell into disfavor with the Egyptians, swineherds were forbidden to enter temples. According to Herodotus, swineherds were a kind of separate sect or caste, which only married among themselves. Egyptians regarded pigs as unworthy sacrifices to their gods other than the Moon and Dionysus, to whom pigs were offered on the day of the full Moon. Herodotus states that, though he knew the reason why Egyptians abominated swine at their other feasts but they sacrificed them at this one; however, it was to him "not a seemly one for me to tell".[3]
  • In Hinduism the god Vishnu took the form of a four-armed humanoid with the head of a boar named Varaha in order to save the Earth from a demon who had dragged it to the bottom of the sea.
  • In Buddhism the goddess Marici is often depicted riding in a carriage hauled by several pigs.
  • In keeping with Leviticus 11:7, the dietary laws of Judaism (Kashrut, adj. Kosher) forbid, among other kinds of meat, the eating of pork in any form, considering the pig to be an unclean animal as food (see taboo food and drink).The prohibition is repeated in Deuteronomy: "And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you. Ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcass."(Deuteronomy 14:8). A similar prohibition is repeated in the Bible in the book of Isaiah, chapter 65 verse 2-5. From the strict reading to the relevant Torah passage, pork is as forbidden as the flesh of any other unclean animal, but probably due to extensive use of pork in modern days, abhorrence of pork is far stronger and emotional in traditional Jewish culture than that of other forbidden foods. Many Ancient Jews also held the prohibition on pigs above other taboos. In De Specialibus Legibus, Philo of Alexandria, a first-century Jewish writer, relates that pigs were lazy scavengers, the embodiment of vice. Philo also argued that since pigs will eat the flesh of human corpses, that men should abstain from eating them so as not to be contaminated.[4]
  • The eating of pork is also sinful in Islam (see Haraam). The Qur'an prohibits the consumption of pork in no less than 4 different places. It is prohibited in 2:173, 5:3, 6:145 and 16:115. "Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah." [Al-Qur'an 5:3] Islam treats pigs as inedible animals par excellence, the animal that is central to the concepts of haram.

In folklore and mythology[edit]

Pig at a German new year event, 1965.
  • In the Ancient Greek epic The Odyssey, Circe magically transforms the hero's ship's crew into pigs. Val Kilmer's character Madmartigan in Ron Howard's film Willow is also transformed into a pig, along with other men.
  • In European folklore, there is a widespread belief that pigs are intensely frightened by mirrors.[citation needed]
  • In many European countries, a feast has formed around slaughtering a pig.
  • In Germany, pigs are known as a symbol for good luck. Marzipan pigs are a popular confectionery, especially as a gift on New Year's Eve.
  • In 1880's New York, a tradition developed of sharing a peppermint-flavored, hard candy pig with one's family after Christmas Dinner, with the hope that it would bring health and prosperity throughout the next year.
  • Superstitious sailors consider pigs to be unlucky because they have cloven hooves like the Devil and are terrified of water.[6] Pigs would not be carried on boats. Fishermen often regarded pigs as harbingers of bad luck: a fisherman seeing a pig on his way to work would rather turn round and go home. This even extended to a prohibition of the word "pig" on board a vessel. This is why the animals were referred to, across North East England, as "gissies".
  • There is a village named Swineford in England, and the name of Schweinfurt means the same in German.

Pig-related idioms[edit]

A number of idioms related to pigs have entered the English language.

Several of these idioms refer to the negative qualities traditionally ascribed to pigs. Thus, pigs are commonly associated with greed of various forms. The phrase "as greedy as a pig" can therefore be used in many contexts - in reference to gluttony ("to pig out") or the monopolisation of time or resources ("road hog" or "server hog", for example). Pigs are also associated with dirtiness, probably related to their habit of wallowing in mud.

As a general derogatory term, "Pig" can be used as a slang term for either a police officer or a male chauvinist, the latter term being adopted originally by the women's liberation movement in the 1960s[citation needed]. It has also been widely used by many revolutionary and radical organizations to describe any supporter of the status quo, including police officers, industrialists, capitalists, and soldiers.

  • The Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War, quotes U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as saying, "There's too many pigs for the tits," in reference to the number of people asking him for government jobs.
  • Winston Churchill is said to have remarked "I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals."[7]
  • The phrase "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," refers to dressing something up (often a political issue), but not changing its underlying nature.
  • The idiomatic phrase "when pigs fly" (or 'pigs might fly') refers to something that is unlikely to ever happen. Though its origins are much older, its popularity is reinforced by such popular references as in the Lewis Carroll poem The Walrus and the Carpenter and Pink Floyd's album Animals.
  • In the United States, footballs are often referred to as "pigskins", despite the fact that they are actually made from cow leather. This phrase is said to refer back to the days of the migration of the pioneers towards the west who would often use the bladder of a pig to create a little ball or balloon for children to play with.
  • "On the pig's back" (Irish: ar m(h)uin na muice) is an Irish expression meaning to be in a fortunate situation, or living an easy or luxurious lifestyle. The saying has given its name to an Irish rewards website, Pigsback.com, and was parodied in Black Books, with main character Bernard Black drunkenly slurring nonsensically that he and Manny Bianco are "on the pig's back, charging through a velvet field".
  • "In a pig's eye" is an expression meaning, "That's not true." There are also variants to this saying, such as "In a pig's bottom."
  • "Sweating like a Pig" to denote sweating profusely. This sounds illogical, as pigs have ineffective sweat glands, but the term is allegedly derived from the iron smelting process. After pouring into runners in sand, it is allowed to cool and is seen as resembling a sow and piglets, hence "pig iron". As the pigs cool, the surrounding air reaches its dew point, and beads of moisture form on the surface of the pigs. "Sweating like a pig" indicates that the pig has cooled enough to be moved in safety.
  • "Eating like a Hog" refers to the subject having poor table manners.
  • The Missouri folklorist Max Hunter collected a number of pig-related idioms:
"It's plain as a pig on a sofa"
"Clumsy as a hog on ice"
"Content as a dead pig in the sunshine"
"Wild as a peach-orchard hog"
  • From 1950's Minnesota:
"As independent as a hog on ice". Someone stubbornly refusing any and all help.
  • Another pig-related idiom from England is "buying a pig in a poke" (buying a piglet in a sack) which means committing yourself to something without carefully inspecting it first (in order to verify that it actually is what it was described as being).
  • Thrifty (if not fussy) sausage-makers were said to use "everything but the squeal".
  • A person who is determined to the point of "pigheadedness" means that they are determined to get something or obtain something to the degree where there is no longer any point in doing so. For instance, a person might be called pigheaded if he/she continued searching for unicorns, even after it was proved that they did not exist, just to show that he/she was not a quitter.
  • The term "slicker than a greased pig" refers to an event that went well without any setbacks. The term "greased pig" can also refer to something that is difficult to obtain.
  • "Pigs Get Fat. Hogs get Slaughtered" means those who work hard will get what they deserve but those who try to gain something for nothing will not get very far.
  • The phrase "pig's ear" means a useless object. To make a (total) pig's ear of something means to (totally) mess it up. To attempt to "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" means to try in vain to make something good out of something worthless or inherently bad.
  • The expression "pig's arse" is an Australian colloquialism, signifying disbelief. It was popularized by the TV show Rubbery Figures.
  • "As happy as a pig in mud" is used to signify someone is very happy.
  • A Bosnian expression for being uncomfortable in a situation is "Feeling like a pig in Tehran." Presumably because a pig has no place in Islamic surroundings.
  • "Bleed like a stuck pig" is a phrase used to describe profuse bleeding, originating from a hog slaughtering technique whereby the pig is stabbed in a main artery, usually with an anticoagulant on the device used for stabbing, and dies by bleeding profusely. "Squealing like a stuck pig" is a phrase used to describe the squealing, a variation of the "bleed like a..".
  • "Do not cast your pearls before swine" is a phrase of Biblical origin which instructs one not to share something of value with those who will not recognize its value.
  • "Sucking hind teat" refers to being in a tenuous or unsavory position. It is commonly used during poker games or tournaments. The phrase is based on the understanding that the anterior teats on a sow are considered to be more desirable than the posterior. The hind piglet must face the likelihood of being bumped off when a new piglet approaches, usually wedging between the first and second position.
  • "To wait like a pig for Christmas" refers in Finland to expect something very nasty and uncomfortable to happen in the near future while others anticipate a happy time. Ham is a traditional Christmas course in Finland.
  • "To behave like a pig in a raspberry orchard" refers in Finland to greedy, immodest, uncontrollable and irresponsible behavior. Pigs are fond of raspberries and will consume them at will.

Pigs in the world of children[edit]

The most famous children's tale concerning pigs is that of the Three Little Pigs, which has appeared in many different versions since its first publication in the 1840s. The story was made adapted for an award-winning 1933 animated Disney film, entitled Three Little Pigs; Disney also featured the Three Little Pigs characters in there animated short films Silly Symphonies. The characters of the tale also appear as supporting characters in the popular Shrek film series. Many versions of the story have appeared in book form. David Wiesner's The Three Pigs won the Caldecott Medal for illustration in 2002. Roald Dahl included a version in his book of poetry for children, Revolting Rhymes. The tale is parodied in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (1989), by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

A popular English nursery rhyme and fingerplay, "This Little Piggy", originated in the eighteenth century and has been used frequently in film and literature. Several Warner Brothers cartoons, such as A Tale of Two Kitties (1942) and A Hare Grows In Manhattan (1947), use the rhyme to comic effect.

The Tale of Pigling Bland and The Tale of Little Pig Robinson are children's books written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter. They feature the adventures of various little pigs.

Several animated cartoon series have included pigs as prominent characters. One of the earliest pigs in cartoon was the character "Piggy", who appeared in four Warner Brothers' Merrie Melodies shorts between 1931 and 1937, most notably Pigs Is Pigs. Piggy's character was rooted in the synonymy of pigs with gluttony. Warner Brothers later developed the character Porky Pig, who shared some of Piggy's character traits. Porky Pig was a prominent character in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, as well as making brief appearances in the films Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). The success of this character led to Warner Brothers creating another pig character, that of Hamton J. Pig, who first appeared in the series Tiny Toon Adventures in 1990 as a student of Porky Pig. Petunia Pig infrequently appeared in cartoons as Porky Pig's girlfriend. Two popular UK animated series with pigs as the main characters are Peppa Pig, which has been on television since 2004, and Pinky and Perky, who first appeared in the 1950s and were revived in 2008 in CGI form. Pigs also appear in Camp Lazlo and Iggy Arbuckle.

Miss Piggy is an anthropomorphized, fictional character from The Muppet Show television series, as are Captain Link Hogthrob and Dr. Julius Strangepork.

A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories and the Disney films based on them contain the supporting character, Piglet.

In the children's book Charlotte's Web, and the films based on it, the central character Wilbur is a pig who formed a relationship with a barn spider called Charlotte.

Babe and its sequel are films about a pig who wants to be a Herding dog, based on the character in the novel by Dick King-Smith. The original Babe film was released in the same year as the less successful film Gordy, which also featured a pig as its main character.

In Hong Kong, two popular children's pig characters are McMug and McDull, created by Alice Mak. Both have appeared in numerous comic books, and McDull has starred in three films: My Life as McDull (2001), McDull, Prince de la Bun (2004) and McDull, the Alumni (2006).

Literature, logos and film[edit]

The Learned pig studying Latin grammar
  • The Learned Pig was a trained animal who appeared to be able to answer questions. It was referred to in numerous poems and cartoons.
  • A. Film A/S featured a pig smiling in the production logo
  • In William Golding's Lord of the Flies there is a character who is nicknamed "Piggy" because he is obese. Additionally, the pig is used to represent Beelzebub, depicted here as a boar's head on a stick ("lord of the flies" is the direct translation of בעל זבוב, Hebrew for Beelzebub).
  • In the Saw films, the symbolism of pigs was used as a motif of an implicit theme relating to the dark side of human nature.
  • The movie Razorback is about a killer hog/razorback.
  • In the Guy Ritchie movie Snatch the, character Brick Top claims that Pigs can be used as a means for disposing dead bodies, and that is the origin of the term "As greedy as a pig".
  • The movie Layer Cake features a scene in which pigs are devouring remains of a human corpse to dispose of any possible evidence of murder
  • School Days With a Pig (ブタがいた教室) (2008) is a Japanese film about a teacher and his class students feed up a pig and send it to the meat factory.[8][9]
  • Arthur Leung's poem What the Pig Mama Says is about a pig mama's feeling about her three children being killed.[10] It won the 3rd (global) of the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition 2008.
  • Heraclitus referred to the preference pigs have for mud over clean water in the Fragments.[11]
  • In Hayao Miyazaki's animated film Spirited Away, the protagonist's parents are transformed into pigs, as punishment for eating "spirit food"; an example of their greed and gluttony. Hayao Miyazaki uses this theme to represent the consumerism and materialism he sees in modern-day Japan's society.
  • In John Boorman's film Deliverance, one of the characters is ordered at gunpoint to "squeal like a pig" as he's being raped by a mountain man.

Music, television and art[edit]

Pigs on Parade at the Lexington Barbecue Festival
First pig to fly, 1909.
  • Arnold Ziffel was a popular recurring character on the CBS television series, Green Acres. He was often portrayed as having exceptional intelligence (watching TV, going to school, engaging in conversation with most Hooterville humans, except Oliver Douglas) and was treated as the real son of townsfolk, Fred and Doris Ziffel.
  • Porco Rosso is a porcine fighter pilot in the comic book of the same name.
  • The video game Beyond Good & Evil features an anthropomorphic pig named Pey'j as one of the main characters.
  • The video game Hogs of War is based upon World War I but instead features anthropomorphic pigs with human characteristics than actual people.
  • In The Legend of Zelda series, the main antagonist, Ganon, has the ability to transform into a pig or boar-like deity, a metaphor for his thirst for power and greed.
  • Mervis, a pig who has various misfortunes, is one of CatDog's best friends in CatDog, voiced by John Kassir.
  • In the manga Naruto, Tsunade has a pet pig named Tonton. Tonton has the ability to track other things by her sensitive sense of smell.
  • In the video game Mother 3 the primary antagonist Porky Minch is referred to as the Pig King, and leads the Pig Mask Army.
  • The Dark Lord Chuckles the Silly Piggy from the cartoon series Dave the Barbarian is an evil pig with a high-collared cape (and equally high voice) bent on ruling Udrogoth.
  • In the popular manga and anime series Ranma 1/2, the character Ryoga Hibiki suffers from a curse which causes him to transform into a black piglet nicknamed "P-chan" when splashed with cold water.
  • The video game Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs features numerous examples of symbolism relating to pigs, from decorative pig masks to abominable monsters made of pig and human body parts meant to convey the idea that all people are little more than gluttonous, selfish, disgusting swine.
  • Lady Gaga wrote a song called "Swine" which compares a suitor to being a pig and is featured on her third studio album Artpop.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richard P. Horwitz. Hog Ties: Pigs, Manure, and Mortality in American Culture. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002). ISBN 0816641838 p. 23.
  2. ^ "Fine Swine". The Daily Telegraph. 2001-02-25. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  3. ^ Sacrifice Goats, female or male.
  4. ^ Philo of Alexandria, De specialibus legibus, lib. 4, ch. 17-18
  5. ^ Mark 5:1-20
  6. ^ Eyers, Jonathan (2011). Don't Shoot the Albatross!: Nautical Myths and Superstitions. A&C Black, London, UK. ISBN 978-1-4081-3131-2.
  7. ^ "Wikiquote". Retrieved 2012-04-22. 
  8. ^ 今夜は好奇心!(Fuji Television)
  9. ^ 黒田恭史, 豚のPちゃんと32人の小学生-命の授業900日-(ミネルヴァ書房).2003
  10. ^ What the Pig Mama Says
  11. ^ s:Fragments of Heraclitus#Fragment 37
  12. ^ The House on the Borderland
  13. ^ "Hogs Killing a Pig". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Claudine Fabre-Vassas. The Singular Beast: Jews, Christians & the Pig. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). ISBN 0231103662. Google Preview
  • Marvin Harris. Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches: The Riddles of Culture. (New York: Random House, 1974). ISBN 0394483383.
  • Richard P. Horwitz. Hog Ties: Pigs, Manure, and Mortality in American Culture. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002). ISBN 0816641838.
  • R.A. Lobban, Jr., "Pigs and Their Prohibition," International Journal of Middle East Studies 26.1 (1994): 57-75.

External links[edit]