By in Animals

Phrase Origins: A Pig in a Poke

ABSTRACT: You don't have to have any concerns about reading this article being a pig in a poke. You don't have to pay, and it gives great information, anyway.


I have often heard the phrase "a pig in a poke," especially on old cartoons and older television shows. Maybe I heard it on Green Acres or maybe I heard it on The Beverly Hillbilles. I am not sure of the exact sources where I heard the phrase.

I've never really known what a "poke" is when I've heard the phrase "a pig in a poke." I've always just imagined that a poke was something like a sty. However, I've never looked up a definition for poke in the case of a pig in a poke. The definition that I know of poke certainly does not make sense. I'm not sure how you can have a pig in something so small as a fingertip or even smaller such as a pen tip, pencil tip, or needle. Plus, the poke is an action, made into a noun because of an action. It doesn't make any sense that a pig would be in a poke.

So, really, even though I tried to make the phrase make sense by making it into "a pig in a sty" in my head, "a pig in a poke" doesn't make any sense.

Looking at the meaning being, "an offering or a deal that is foolishly accepted without being examined first," then "a pig in a sty" doesn't make any sense, either. Trying to make sense of "a pig in a poke" by making the phrase "a pig in a sty," I also thought of the meaning as being something like "run of the mill" like "just another pig in a sty."

Seeing the real meaning, I was obviously wrong.

So, why is it called "a pig in a poke?"

I still don't know that.

It turns out that is poke is a sack. This comes from the French poque, and indeed, it is where we get the word "pocket" from either "poquette" or "poquet" meaning miniature sack.

So, the saying could also be "a pig in a sack."

The phrase refers to when farmers would sell pigs. Sometime to trick people, farmers would put something else in a bag, or a poke, such as a cat, which is where "let the cat out of the bag," originated.

The person buying a pig should not buy "a pig in a poke," but should buy a pig that they had actually seen.

So, now, while the phrase is older, it is still good advice. The phrase may not be heard as often in urban areas, but it would easily still apply in rural areas.

Martin, Gary. " A pig in a poke ". The Phrase Finder. June 9, 2010>.

You will need an account to comment - feel free to register or login.


MegL wrote on August 17, 2014, 8:43 AM

Yes, the old phrases are interesting, aren't they? Good advice remains good advice!

AngelSharum wrote on August 17, 2014, 8:36 PM

I have heard this my whole life but I had no idea where the phrase came from. Interesting.