All About Pigs and Pig Lingo

Whet your appetite with a few fun facts all about pigs.
Terri Schlichenmeyer
July/August 2011
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Lounging and eating ... it's rough being a pig.
illustration by Nate Owens
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Feel like going a little hog-wild today? Want to wallow in some fun-to-know facts? Then don’t be pig-headed, come on over. Pig out on these words all about pigs, and you’ll be in hog heaven.

Though pigs made their world debut some 40 million years ago, it wasn’t until about 11,000 years ago that humans brought home the bacon in the form of the Sus scrofa domestica (the Latin name for the pig, not to be confused with pig Latin). If you saw one of those ancient critters, however, you’d notice something odd: the Pygg of Olde was lower to the ground, fatter, and had shorter legs than its modern counterpart.

When Christopher Columbus came to the shores of the New World, he had pigs in the Pinta (and probably in his other two ships as well), and he promptly set the animals free to run around Haiti. Perhaps thinking that was a good idea, Hernando de Soto brought pigs to the Florida mainland and let them go wild, too. Pigs, like many domestic animals, are more than happy to go feral – which they promptly did – much to the chagrin of future farmers and ranchers. Pigs, you see, are omnivorous, meaning they’ll eat darn near anything.

These days, every continent except Antarctica contains some sort of porcine creature, domestic or otherwise. Pigs native to this continent are peccaries (though they’re technically just pig-cousins). Europe and Asia have their wild boars, bush pigs reside in Africa, and there are warty pigs on the islands near Australia.

Closer to home, if you want diversity in your sty, you can get a Yorkshire that can outweigh you, times 10, or a Meishan that closely resembles a piggy Shar-Pei. You can continue your barnyard decorating scheme with a Hereford pig that looks a little like its bovine counterpart. Other breeds sound like they belong on a map: Oxford Black-and-Sandy, Poland China, Vietnamese Potbelly, Berkshire, Hampshire and Gloucestershire. Your sty can contain a Minzhu, a Piétrain, a Mangalitsa, or a rare Mulefoot with a non-cloven hoof. If a pocket-size porker is more your preference, there are miniature breeds perfect for the parlor. Mama pig, or the sow, averages eight to 14 piglets per litter, by the way. Daddy pigs are called boars, which is no reflection on their social skills.

The old notion that pigs are brutish animals is pure hogwash. They’re actually quite intelligent creatures. They love to play and are said to be affectionate with their people. They’re not lazy: Pigs can swim, jump, and run up to 11 miles an hour. They even have been trained as assistance animals for the disabled.

As for a pig being dirty, well, if you believe that, you’ve bought a pig in a poke. Except for the famously loved mud baths (which serve to cool their skin, since pigs can’t sweat), pigs are basically clean animals that will groom one another, that can get blistering sunburns, and that can be housebroken. Breaking a piggy bank, however, is not necessary.

Overall, having le cochon (French for “pig”) around is a good thing. Ein Schwein (German) gives us insulin and valves for heart surgery. Porcos (Italian) provide brushes, suede and leather. Svinja (Russian) parts go into antifreeze, glue and gelatin. Cochino (Spanish) bits are found in fertilizer and paint. And aside from the usual bacon, ham and chitterlings, you might consume svin (Danish) in beer, bread, cigarettes, toothpaste, ice cream and wine.

So the next time somebody says you eat like a pig, tell them “not quite.” When someone says you’re a total bore, ask for clarification. And when they call you a pig, thank them by saying “oui, oui, oui” and squealing with delight.   

Terri Schlichenmeyer, book reviewer and trivia collector, lives in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. 


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