Devon on June 18th, 2009

You probably do not know this about me, but I like researching the origins of sayings/phrases. It may stem from my mother being a linguist or that I am extremely bored — you pick. Recently, I explained to a friend that the saying “sweating like a pig” makes no sense. Most people say it when they are sweating; yet, pigs have no sweat glands so it is impossible for them to sweat. So why do we say it? It turns out that we are all incredibly ignorant or use it wrong. The expression should be used when you are doing nothing. When you are home and sitting on the couch and someone asks you “what are you doing?” you should say, “Just sweating like a pig” indicating that you are carefree, not under any pressure, and not sweating. The only origin information I could find was that the expression “sweat like a bull” (yes, bulls actually sweat) from the 19th century (Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang). In Palmatier’s “Speaking of Animals: A Dictionary of Animals Metaphors,” it suggests that the “like a pig” may have developed from a 17th century expression “bleed like a stuck pig.” Then merging with “sweat like a bull” — I guess that is a possibility. On the other hand, maybe it evolved from the instance that pigs “sweat” as they turn slowly on a spit over a fire. It is not really sweat of course — just the fat dripping off.

Leave a Reply