lipstick on a pig

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 2 03:37:21 UTC 2014

Randy Alexander's revival (thanks, Randy!) of Ben's "lipstick on a
pig" question prompted me to see whether anything new (well, old) has
popped up since September, 2008.

Here's something solid from 1974 and a pretty strong hint that the
expression (at least involving "hog") goes back to 1964.  Of course,
I'd be happy to see other research on this that I may have missed.

-- Bonnie

P.S.  Ben's 2008 VisualThesaurus column is here,


He urged dipping into $2 million in bond issue proceeds set aside for
new airport site acquisitions to make further improvements at Ryan.
Landry said, however, that would be "like putting lipstick on a pig.
What would you do with it?"  [From "Dr. Landry Ousted from Post as
Chairman of Airport Body," State-Times (Baton Rouge, LA), 6 March
1974, p. 8A; via]


And on 28 April 1964, The Rockford [Illinois] Register-Republic
reprinted an editorial (originally appeared in The Richmond [VA] News
Leader) that bears the title "Lipstick on a Hog."  It discusses the
government's testing of cosmetics, including lipsticks, on pigs.  The
title suggests that "putting lipstick on a hog/pig" may have been
known in 1964.  (The reprinting is on p. 12-A of that issue.)

On Thu, May 1, 2014 at 10:15 PM, Randy Alexander
<strangeguitars at> wrote:

> Was just watching "They Live" (1988 Movie) with my kids and was reminded of
> this discussion when the main character was calling out a female alien:
> "That's like pouring perfume on a pig!"
> Randy
> On Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 8:32 AM, Benjamin Zimmer <
> bgzimmer at> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
>> Subject:      lipstick on a pig
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> There's a kerfuffle over Obama saying "You can put lipstick on a pig
>> -- it's still a pig," which the McCain campaign is claiming refers to
>> Sarah "pitbull with lipstick" Palin. Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen
>> Psaki is quoted as saying, "That expression is older than my
>> grandfather's grandfather and it means that you can dress something up
>> but it doesn't change what it is."
>> How old is the expression, really? A quick database check doesn't turn
>> up anything before 1985:
>> ---
>> Washington Post,  Nov. 15, 1985, p. C1 (Nexis)
>> KNBR, the AM radio station carrying Giants baseball games, had raised
>> $20,000 toward the construction of a new downtown stadium. The board
>> of supervisors, reluctant to commit to such a project, asked if they
>> couldn't use the money to renovate Candlestick Park. "That," replied
>> KNBR personality Ron Lyons, "would be like putting lipstick on a pig."
>> ---
>> There are earlier cites for "putting lipstick on a corpse," but that's
>> a bit different.
>> ---
>> DECEMBER 1971 SERIAL-NO: Serial No. 92-10
>> "Like putting lipstick on a corp[o]se," is how current strip-mine
>> reclamation efforts were described to me on a recent trip to West
>> Virginia.
>> ---
>> --Ben Zimmer

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