What is the source of "When you fight with a pig you both get dirty - but the pig likes it"?
June 20, 2008 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Where does this phrase/proverb come from?

I'm looking for the source of the quote/proverb "When you fight with a pig you both get dirty - but the pig likes it."

Any ideas?
posted by zooropa to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.
George Bernard Shaw
posted by captnkurt at 7:15 AM on June 20, 2008

This is unsourced though.
posted by ersatz at 7:19 AM on June 20, 2008

Man, that gets attributed to EVERYONE. Here's some more.
posted by pullayup at 7:24 AM on June 20, 2008

Also attributed to John McCain, Cale Yarborough, and Cyrus Ching.
posted by iconomy at 7:29 AM on June 20, 2008

Also attributed to this guy.
posted by captnkurt at 7:37 AM on June 20, 2008

Also attributed to Abraham Lincoln, Oscar Wilde, and Walter Winchell...hehe.

"If it was Cyrus Ching it was attributed in The American Treasury by Clifton Fadiman in 1955.
An earlier attribution puts it, to before 1948, in a column of the Daily Mail, "Notes of a New York Columnist" by Walter Winchell." link
posted by iconomy at 7:39 AM on June 20, 2008

Given the utter lack of consensus on the source, I would have to surmise that it's just a saying that's been around for so long that nobody remembers who first said it. Any one, or more, of the people listed may have written it down first, but I would still think it unlikely that they're the source.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:39 AM on June 20, 2008

On Google Books, using advanced search to look by date, the earliest citation appears to be in a 1998 book of quotations (Dictionary of Quotations, by Connie Robertson), in which it is attributed to Cyrus Ching. (scroll down)

If Shaw, Lincoln, Wilde, Twain or anyone else said it, there would be GBooks citations galore, but there aren't. So they didn't say it. Nor did Yogi Berra, who really didn't say everything he said, either.

Here's a 1950 Time magazine article about Ching, an industrialist and labor mediator, quoting it as something he likes to say.

If you look at the Google News Archive timeline for the phrase "pig likes it" (virtually all of which refer to the saying in question), you'll notice that this 1950 citation is the earliest, and the frequency doesn't really take off until until 1985. The long gaps before that, and lack of Google Books citations until 1998, indicate the saying was in oral circulation for a long time before being attributed or anthologized. While Ching may have helped popularize it and was quoted saying it in print, it is likely that he, too, picked up a common aphorism and did not coin it.

Per Wikipedia, Ching was born and grew up on Canada's Prince Edward Island, in 1876, of Welsh Heritage (the name was originally spelled Chynge). So potentially, it's a PEI or Welsh saying.
posted by beagle at 12:31 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always heard it as
Arguing with an engineer/geek/DBA etc, is like wrestling with a pig in mud. After a while, you realise the pig likes it.
posted by b33j at 4:30 PM on June 20, 2008

I don't know if this will help, but I've heard a similar saying that one should:

"Never try to teach a pig to sing, it only wastes your time and annoys the pig".

A quick peek at the Google resources mentioned by beagle suggests it may have been around since 1887 or so, but I'm not sure if I'm reading that right. In any case, searching on "teach a pig to sing" and "annoys the pig" might lead you a little farther in the origin of this phrase than "fight with a pig" and "the pig likes it"

Obviously the sentiment is slightly different, but the construction is so similar that I can't help but guess that one is a variation of the other, and if the annoyed pig is the original then that might help you find the source.
posted by Reverend John at 9:57 AM on July 3, 2008

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