Pig in a poke

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A pig in a poke. Whist, whist by Samuel William Fores, 1788

Pig in a poke is an English idiom which means a kind of deceptive trick. It is a blind bargain.[1]

The phrase is about something which is offered for sale in a manner which hides its true value. The idiom means a purchase which turns out not to be what the seller claimed it was.[2]

History[change | edit source]

The term "pig in a poke" was first used in the Middle Ages.[3] At this time, it was common to sell meat or small animals in cloth bags or sacks called a "poke".[4]

Sometimes people simply bought the "poke" without looking inside; and sometimes people who thought they were buying pork or a small pig were surprised to find they had been sold something else.

The idiom pig in a poke is about what happens when someone does not look to see what is being bought or sold.[5]

Meaning[change | edit source]

The idiom "pig in a poke" is used to describe something which is purchased without the buyer being aware of its true nature or value.

The phrase can also be applied to accepting an idea or plan without a full understanding of it. In other words, it is about starting a course of action without knowing the relevant facts.[6]

Many other European languages have a version of this phrase, but many are translated as a warning not to buy a cat in a bag.[7] -

Language Phrase Translation
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 挂羊头卖狗肉 sell dog meat as mutton
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[8]
Finnish ostaa sika säkissä to buy a pig in a sack
German Die Katze im Sack kaufen to buy the cat in the sack[8]
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 comperare un gatto in sacco buying a cat in a sack[8]
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
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
Spanish dar gato por liebre to give a cat instead of a hare
Spanish hay gato encerrado there is a cat shut inside
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
Swedish köpa grisen i säcken to buy the pig in the sack

References[change | edit source]

  1. Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham. (1853). "Pig in a poke," Errors of speech and of spelling, Vol. 2, p. 853.
  2. Brown, Keith. (2009). Concise Encyclopedia of Semantics, p. 404.
  3. Amer, Christine. (1997). "Pig in a poke," The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, p. 499.
  4. A poke is a sack or bag. It comes from the French word poque; see Philip Durkin (2009). The Oxford Guide to Etymology, p. 106.
  5. Lal, Ram Narain. (1904). "Pig," The Student's practical dictionary of idioms, phrases and terms: with explanation in English and Roman-Urdu, p. 470.
  6. Trask, Robert Lawrence and Peter Stockwell. (2007). Language and Linguistics: The Key Concepts, p. 114.
  7. A related English expression is "let the cat out of the bag".
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Gewehr, Wolf and Georgia Catsimali. (1998). Aspects of Modern Language Teaching in Europe, p. 203.