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 traditional arts, popular culture, and media. 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 folklore, folkways, and mythology[edit]

Pig at a German new year event, 1965.
  • In Homer's Ancient Greek epic The Odyssey, Circe magically transforms the hero's ship's crew into pigs.
  • 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.[3] Pigs would not be carried on boats. Fishermen once 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".

In religion[edit]

  • 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".[4]
  • In ancient Greece, a sow was an appropriate sacrifice to Demeter and had been her favorite animal since archaic times. Initiates at the Eleusinian Mysteries began by sacrificing a pig. Pig were also sacrificed to Aphrodite.
  • The ancient Romans practiced a sacrifice called the suovetaurilia, in which a pig, a ram, and a bull were sacrificed, as one of the most solemn acts of the Roman religion.
  • In Buddhism the deity Marici is often depicted riding in a carriage hauled by several pigs.
  • The Celts had a god of swine called Moccus, who under Roman occupation was identified with Mercury. In Celtic mythology, a cauldron overflowing with cooked pork was one of the attributes of The Dagda. In the tale of Culhwch and Olwen from the Welsh Mabinogion, the Twrch Trwyth was a prince whom God turned into a boar on account of his wickedness.
  • In the Chinese zodiac, the Pig is one of the 12-year cycle of animals. Believers in Chinese astrology associate each animal with certain personality traits (see: Pig (zodiac)). One of the best known and widely loved characters in Chinese literature is "Pigsy" from the novel Journey to the West, a symbol for man's appetites and lack of restraint.
  • In Christianity the book of Mark, in an event referred to as the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac Jesus casts the demons Legion (demon) possessing a swine herder from Gerasene; into 2000 of the swine herders pigs.[5]
  • In Haitian Vodou, Ezili Dantor, the lwa of motherhood, is associated with the black Creole Pig of Haiti, her favorite animal sacrifice.
  • 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 Islam the eating of pork is also sinful (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.
  • The dietary laws of Judaism (Kashrut, adj. Kosher), in keeping with Leviticus 11:7, 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.[6]
  • 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.
  • Among Seventh-day Adventists and some other denominations[who?], the eating of pork is prohibited. Most Christians believe that the eating of pork is not prohibited, according to the teachings of the New Testament. In Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and other, older Christian groups, pigs are associated with Saint Anthony the Great, who is known as the patron saint of swineherds.

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. While pigs do have sweat glands, they are not very effective, and pigs prefer wallowing in cool water or mud to keep cool.[8] The origin of this phrase may have to do with cooking a whole pig on a spit over a fire. As the pig is cooked it begins to “sweat”. While opinion varies, a slight sweat is commonly considered ideal. Too much sweating means the fire is too high and too close to the pig. Too little or no sweating means the fire is too cold or too far from the pig.[9]
  • "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" cautions against excessive greed (i.e. you can be a pig, but if you go too far you start to look like a meal).
  • 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", signifies someone is very happy.
  • "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.
  • "Feeling like a pig in Tehran" is a Bosnian expression for being uncomfortable in a situation. Presumably because a pig has no place in Islamic surroundings.
  • The phrase "sow's ear" or "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.
  • "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 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.
  • "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.


In children's media[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.

A popular English nursery rhyme and fingerplay, "This Little Piggy", originated in the 18th 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.

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 made 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's. 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 cartoon pig characters are McDull (Chinese: 麥兜), created by Alice Mak and Brian Tse (who also created another cartoon pig called McMug). Both characters 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).

Art, entertainment, and media[edit]

Anime and manga[edit]

  • Kagura Sohma, from the anime and manga Fruits Basket, transforms in the Pig of the Chinese zodiac when she is hugged by a boy or her body is under too much stress.
  • In the manga Naruto, Tsunade has a pet pig named Tonton, who has the ability to track other things by her sensitive sense of smell.
  • In the popular anime and manga 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.
  • In the magical girl parody anime and manga series Tonde Burin, the main character can transform into a superpowered pink piglet.
  • Oolong, an anthropomorphic pig, is a protagonist in the Dragon Ball series manga and anime.


Pigs on Parade at the Lexington Barbecue Festival
First pig to fly, 1909.


  • In the Chuck Billy 'n' Folks comics, the titular character Chuck Billy has a pet pig named "Porkchop".
  • In the Monica's Gang comics, Smudge has a pet pig named "Chauvy".
  • Porco Rosso is a porcine fighter pilot in the comic book of the same name.
  • Spider-Ham (Peter Porker) is a fictional anthropomorphic pig parody of Marvel Comics' Spider-Man, created by Tom DeFalco and Mark Armstrong.

Fictional entities[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.


  • Val Kilmer's character Madmartigan in Ron Howard's film Willow is also transformed into a pig, along with other men.
  • In the Nightmare on Elm Street series of movies, the character Freddy Krueger often refers to his victims, usually teenagers, as "piggies".
  • 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 of disposing of dead bodies, providing numerous methods for ensuring that the corpse is devoured in a single sitting, and even going so far as to note how many pounds of uncooked flesh can be eaten per minute - concluding by quoting the popular expression "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.
  • In the slasher/drama film Hannibal, pigs are trained to eat Hannibal Lecter, however he escapes and turns them upon his captor and a henchman, who are both gorily devoured.
  • In the Alfonso Cuarón film The Children of Men (2006), a pig is anchored between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station in an accurate recreation of the cover of Pink Floyd's album Animals. The pig can be seen prominently on screen for several minutes.
  • 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.[11][12]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In National Lampoon's Animal House, John "Bluto" Blutarsky (John Belushi) is eating untidily. Disgusted at the sight of Bluto's bad manners, a woman calls him "...a P-I-G pig!", which eventually leads to a food fight.




Albums and EPs[edit]



(Alphabetical by series title)

Video games[edit]

  • 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.
  • The Angry Birds franchise video game Angry Birds (2009), puzzle game Bad Piggies (2012), and animated television series Angry Birds Toons feature green pigs as the antagonists of the birds, who are the protagonists.
  • The video game Beyond Good & Evil features an anthropomorphic pig named Pey'j as one of the main characters.
  • The fictional character Wizpig is the main villain in Diddy Kong Racing.
  • Lars Umlaut from the Guitar Hero video game series transforms into a pig-like beast in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.
  • 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 video game Mother 3 the primary antagonist Porky Minch is referred to as the Pig King, and leads the Pig Mask Army.
  • In the Pokémon Series of video games, the Pokémon Swinub is based on a pig. Its evolved forms Piloswine and Mamoswine have traits based on pigs and woolly mammoths. The Pokémon Spoink and its evolved form Grumpig also resemble pigs. The Pokémon Tepig is also based on a pig.
  • 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.
  • In the video game, Overwatch, one of the playable heroes, Roadhog, wears a mask in the shape of a pig's head and has a tattoo of a flaming pig on his large belly. He also makes several references to pigs in his voicelines (ex. When injured he yells "I'm bleeding like a stuck pig!")



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Horwitz, Richard P. (2002). Hog Ties: Pigs, Manure, and Mortality in American Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 23. ISBN 0816641838. 
  2. ^ "Fine Swine". The Daily Telegraph. 2001-02-25. Retrieved 2009-06-27. 
  3. ^ Eyers, Jonathan (2011). Don't Shoot the Albatross!: Nautical Myths and Superstitions. London, UK: A&C Black. ISBN 978-1-4081-3131-2. 
  4. ^ Sacrifice Goats, female or male.
  5. ^ Mark 5:1-20
  6. ^ Philo of Alexandria, De specialibus legibus, lib. 4, ch. 17-18
  7. ^ "Wikiquote". Retrieved 2012-04-22. 
  8. ^ http://www.livescience.com/32118-do-pigs-sweat.html
  9. ^ http://www.adamperrylang.com/recipes/whole-pig-on-a-spit/
  10. ^ "Hogs Killing a Pig". 
  11. ^ 今夜は好奇心!(Fuji Television)
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ s:Fragments of Heraclitus#Fragment 37
  14. ^ The House on the Borderland
  15. ^ What the Pig Mama Says

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]