Aug 102013

I believe that no decent blog can expect to be well-received unless it contains regular posts featuring pigs. Certainly that is why I have gone out of my way to include pigs whenever the opportunity arises…

I also enjoy puns, and I love the way that cartoonists brought out prints giving “literal”examples of well-known sayings – in this case “a pig in a poke”. Now we all know that in the late Middle Ages a “poke” was a sack or bag and that the expression referred to unscrupulous meat vendors selling a dog or  a cat in a sack with a knot tied around the neck of the sack so that the purchaser believed he was getting a small porker. The wise purchaser would insist on the knot being untied – and thereby “letting the cat out of the bag” while the foolish one would buy the “pig in a poke”.

But  by the eighteenth century “poke” was also the name for a bonnet with a long peak, and so we have this charming picture of Mother Pig and her offspring, parading around in their poke bonnets. It was published in 1799 by William Holland. Nice one!

Poke bonnets also feature in this 1810 cartoon entitled Les Invisibles


And to end with, an old favourite:




  5 Responses to “A pig in a poke….an eighteenth century view.”


    Thank you for the update. I had wondered about the expression. I thought maybe it got stuck trying to stick it’s head through the fence or something like that. I enjoy the topic of pigs too 🙂


    Great illustrations! In Scotland ‘poke’ is still used to mean bag, and you can get yourself a poke of chips if you’re feeling hungry on the way home.


    There’s another explanation for ‘letting the cat out of the bag’ which is naval, because the cat o’ nine tails was stored in a red baize bag between the time it was made [a new one for every flogging] and when it was let out of the bag to enact punishment. However, Sailors having the sort of black humour that they do, it wouldn’t surprise me if they recycled an earlier use of the expression possibly with some pig-connected joke now too obscure to fathom…


    Dear Gentleman
    Always fun to be reminded of the etymology of well-worn phrases and these are delightful visual cures to boot.
    Thank you
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy


    Oh my, the last picture was way too funny. 😀 Thanks for sharing.

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