Pig in a poke
I wyll neuer bye the pyg in the poke
Thers many a foule pyg in a feyre cloke
A "poke" is a bag, so the image is of a concealed item being sold.
Starting in the 19th century, this idiom was explained as a confidence trick where a farmer would substitute a cat for a suckling pig when bringing it to market. When the buyer discovered the deception, he was said to "let the cat out of the bag", that is, to learn of something unfortunate prematurely,  hence the expression "letting the cat out of the bag", meaning to reveal that which is secret. The French idiom acheter (un) chat en poche and the Dutch een kat in de zak kopen (both: to buy a cat in a bag) refer to an actual scam of this nature, as do many other European equivalents, while the English expression refers to the appearance of the trick. The English idiom "sold a pup" refers to a similar con.
A poke is a sack or bag, from French poque, which is also the etymon of "pocket", "pouch", and "poach". Poke is still in regional use. Pigs were formerly brought to market for sale in a cloth bag, a poke.
Relation to other idioms and expressions
The English colloquialisms such as turn out to be a pig in a poke or buy a pig in a poke mean that something is sold or bought without the buyer knowing its true nature or value, especially when buying without inspecting the item beforehand. The phrase can also be applied to accepting an idea or plan without a full understanding of its basis. Similar expressions exist in other European languages, most of them referring to the purchase of a cat in a bag.
|Arabic||يشتري سمك في ماء||to buy fish in water|
|Bulgarian||да купиш котка в торба||to buy a cat in a bag|
|Catalan||Donar/Prendre gat per llebre||to give/to take cat instead of hare|
|Chinese||隔山买老牛||buy a cow over there in another mountain|
|Croatian||kupiti mačka u vreći||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Czech||koupit zajíce v pytli||to buy a hare in a sack|
|Danish||at købe katten i sækken||to buy the cat in the sack|
|Dutch||een kat in de zak kopen||to buy a cat in the sack|
|Estonian||ostma põrsast kotis||to buy a piglet in a sack|
|French||acheter un chat dans un sac
acheter chat en poche
|to buy a cat in a bag|
|Finnish||ostaa sika säkissä||to buy a pig in a sack|
|German||Die Katze im Sack kaufen||to buy the cat in the sack|
|Greek||αγοράζω γουρούνι στο σακκί||to buy a pig in a sack|
|Hebrew||חתול בשק||cat in a sack |
|Hungarian||zsákbamacska||cat in a sack|
|Icelandic||að kaupa köttinn í sekknum||to buy the cat in the sack|
|Indonesian||kucing dalam karung||cat in a sack|
|Irish||ceannaigh muc i mála||buying a pig in a bag|
|Italian||comprare a scatola chiusa||to buy in a sealed box|
|Latvian||pirkt kaķi maisā||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Lithuanian||pirkti katę maiše||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Luxembourgish||d'Kaz am Sak kafen||to buy the cat in a sack|
|Macedonian||да купиш мачка во вреќа||to buy the cat in the sack|
|Maltese||xtara l-ħut fil-baħar||to buy fish in the sea|
|Norwegian||kjøpe katta i sekken||to buy the cat in the sack|
|Polish||kupić kota w worku||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Portuguese||comprar gato por lebre||to buy a cat instead of a hare|
|Romanian||cumperi mâța în sac||to buy the cat in the bag|
|Russian||купить кота в мешке||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Serbian||купити мачку у џаку||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Slovak||kúpiť mačku vo vreci||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Slovene||kupiti mačka v žaklju||to buy a cat in a sack|
|Spanish||dar/pasar gato por liebre||to give a cat instead of a hare (as food)|
|Swedish||köpa grisen i säcken||to buy the pig in the sack|
|Vietnamese||mua mèo trong bị||to buy a cat in a bag|
|Welsh||prynu cath mewn cwd||to buy a cat in a bag|
|Zulu||ukuthenga ingulube esesakeni||to buy a pig in a sack|
Use in popular culture
In the April 1929 edition of the literary magazine London Aphrodite, a story by Rhys Davies, titled "A Pig in a Poke", was published, in which a Welsh collier (charcoal maker) takes a woman from London for his wife and regrets it. (Boulton 1993: p. 278)
- Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 2006 s.v. 'pig' P4
- John Heywood, Two hundred Epigrammes, vpon two hundred prouerbes, with a thyrde hundred newely added, 1555, full text
- William Turton, "Origines Zoologicæ, or Zoological Recollections", in Magazine of Natural History and Journal of Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Geology and Meteorology 7 p. 326
- Let the cat out of the bag on Theidioms.com
- Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898.
- Mitchell Symons. There Are Tittles in This Title: The Weird World of Words.
- Gardiner v. Gray, 1815 : no caveat emptor principle applies where there has been no opportunity to inspect goods.
- Sale of Goods Act 1979
- Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, s.v.v.
- The Talmudic idiom is חייתא דקטרי - a tied up bag: Talmud Baba Kama 9a.
- Boulton, James T. (1993). The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume VII: November 1928 – February 1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.