Idiom: living high on the hog; eating too high up on the hog (antedating 1919 November 28)

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 5 19:09:54 UTC 2011

The problem with tracking down explanations of old phrases is that there are
always alternatives. For example, there are competing theories for "to go
whole hog". OED's first explanation defies logic (poetic verses concerning
Muslim dispute as to which parts of pigs are prohibited to eat--nonsensical
since the whole pig is prohibited in a manner similar to Kashrut[h] laws).
The second explanation is the "economy of scale" in buying the whole hog.
The third, however, which is not fully spelled out, is the one that may be
relevant here.

"Hog" (see hog n.1 11.a. and b.) is a shilling (or a dime, if 11.b. is
accurate). If this is the original sense of "hog" in "living high on the
hog", then the phrase is far more ironic than the "eating high [up] on/off
the hog" might suggest.

There are several ifs here. For one, this only makes sense if attestation
can be found prior to the 1919/20 references--and that's a very big "if". It
also requires clarification of how common the "hog" reference was to any
particular coin denomination--in the US, if the phrase originates in the US.
Certainly hog==shilling was on par with "quid" at least through the 1850s,
but that says nothing about the US usage.

Still, it is something that should be at least considered (even if later
discaded) when searching for the roots of this expression.


On Mon, Sep 5, 2011 at 9:50 AM, Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at>wrote:

> At a dinner party last night I was asked about the expression "living
> high on the hog." The OED has this phrase listed under the entry for
> hog with a first citation dated 1940:
> hog, n.1,
> Phrases 8. orig. and chiefly U.S. to live (also eat) high off (also
> on) the hog : to live in an extravagant or luxurious style. Hence: to
> live (also eat) low off (also on) the hog (and variants).
> The Phrase Finder website has a page on this topic with valuable
> information. The earliest citation is a New York Times article dated
> March 4, 1920. The phrase in the newspaper differs slightly from the
> one given in the OED:
> Southern laborers who are "eating too high up on the hog" (pork chops
> and ham) and American housewives who "eat too far back on the beef"
> (porterhouse and round steak) are to blame for the continued high cost
> of living, the American Institute of Meat Packers announced today.

The American Dialect Society -

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