Lipstick on a pig
To put "lipstick on a pig" is a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product.
Pigs have long featured in proverbial expressions: a "pig's ear," a "pig in a poke," as well as the Biblical expressions "pearls before swine" and "ring of gold in a swine's snout." Indeed, whereas the phrase "lipstick on a pig" seems to have been coined in the 20th century, the concept of the phrase may not be particularly recent. The similar expression, "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear" seems to have been in use by the middle of the 16th century or earlier. Thomas Fuller, the British physician, noted the use of the phrase "A hog in armour is still but a hog" in 1732, here, as the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796) later noted "hog in armour" alludes to "an awkward or mean looking man or woman, finely dressed." The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) recorded the variation "A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog" in his book of proverbs The Salt-Cellars (published 1887).
The "lipstick" variant of the phrase is more modern (the word "lipstick" itself was only coined in 1880). The rhetorical effect of linking pigs with lipstick was explored in 1926 by Charles F. Lummis, in the Los Angeles Times, when he wrote "Most of us know as much of history as a pig does of lipsticks." However, the first recorded uses of "putting lipstick on a pig" are later. In Stella Gibbons' Westwood (published in 1946) Hebe visits a hair salon and has her hair "contemptuously washed by Miss Susan, who had a face like a very young pig that had managed to get hold of a lipstick"
In an article in the Quad-City Herald (Brewster, Washington) from 31 January 1980, it was observed that "You can clean up a pig, put a ribbon on it's [sic] tail, spray it with perfume, but it is still a pig." The phrase was also reported in 1985 when The Washington Post quoted a San Francisco radio host from KNBR-AM remarking "That would be like putting lipstick on a pig" in reference to plans to refurbish Candlestick Park (rather than constructing a new stadium for the San Francisco Giants).
In May 2002, brokerage firm Charles Schwab Corporation ran a television advertisement pointing out Wall Street brokerage firms' conflicts of interest by showing an unidentified sales manager telling his salesmen, "Let's put some lipstick on this pig!" The ad appeared shortly after New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced that Merrill Lynch stock analysts had recommended stocks that they privately called "dogs." CBS refused to air the ad.
More recently, the phrase has been used in political rhetoric to criticize spin, and to insinuate that a political opponent is attempting to repackage established policies and present them as new. Victoria Clarke, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under Donald Rumsfeld, published a book about spin in politics titled Lipstick on a Pig: Winning In the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game. The book argued, using anecdotes from her own career, that spin does not work in an age of transparency, when everyone will find out the truth anyway ("you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig").
In recent years the phrase has become common and often controversial political invective both in the United Kingdom and the United States. The expression has been used by many US politicians, including both the Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain during the United States Presidential Election of 2008, and Vice President Dick Cheney(who called it his "favorite line").
- Lipstick on a Pig: Winning In the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game, Victoria Clarke, Free Press, 2006 (ISBN 0743271165)
- Putting Lipstick on a Pig (Rep and Melissa Pennyworth Mysteries), Michael Bowen, Poisoned Pen Press, 2008 (ISBN 1590585313)
- If You Put Lipstick on a Pig—You Will Have A Beautiful Pig, Penelope Dyan, Bellissima Publishing LLC, 2008 (ISBN 1935118269)
- Let's Put Some Lipstick on This Pig? Practical and Innovative Insights for the Selling Professional, Mark McGlinchey, Business Management Solutions, 2003 (ISBN 0972807608)
- Election 2008: Lipstick on the Pig (Substance of Governance; Legitimate Grievances; Candidates on the Issues; Balanced Budget 101; Call to Arms: Fund We Not Them; Annotated Bibliography), Robert David Steele Vivas, Earth Intelligence Network, 2008, (ISBN 0971566151)
- Ben Zimmer, Who First Put 'Lipstick on a Pig'? Slate.com 10 September 2008
- Gibbons, Stella Westwood, 1946 ISBN 978-0-099-52872-2
- Guzman, Monica (10 September 2008). "'Lipstick on a pig' finds origin in tiny state newspaper". blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com. SeatlePi.com. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- Mathews, Jay (16 November 1985). "San Francisco Tries To Keep Baseball Raiders at Bay". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 September 2008.
- McGeehan, Patric K. (28 October 2002). "Schwab Ads Take Swipe at Big Firms". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
- Clarke, Victoria (2006). Lipstick on a Pig: Winning In the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-7116-5.
- Wendy Greenberg in Newswise Issue No. 200606, June 2006.
- Labour 'lipstick on a pig' attack BBC news website Wednesday, 26 July 2006 BBC
- "Obama rejects 'lipstick' charge". BBC. 10 September 2008..
- "McCain Said "Lipstick" Too". Slate.
- "Obama accuses McCain campaign of 'lies'" Associated Press, 10 September 2008
- Turns out Dick Cheney knows about "lipstick on a pig" too Dallas Morning News 10 September 2008 trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com
- Vice President's Remarks in Colorado Springs, Colorado