I don’t know what it is about pigs, but English and Spanish have a lot of words for them. English says pig, hog, porker, swine, and, for a female, sow. Yesterday’s post mentioned Spanish cerdo, in addition to which there are puerco, cochino, marrano, and in some countries chancho. The origin of cerdo is interesting. It’s based on cerda ‘bristle,’ from the fact that hogs have bristly hairs on them. Cerda had developed from Vulgar Latin *cirra ‘a tuft of hair in an animal’s mane,’ the feminine of the Latin cirrus that meant ‘lock, curl, tuft of hair’ in general and ‘the hair on the forehead of a horse’ in particular. Now you can see why meteorologists adopted cirro/cirrus as a name for ‘a type of fleecy cloud found at high altitudes.’ Some English speakers are fond of saying “If pigs had wings they would fly,” which is a roundabout but colorful way of saying that something is impossible. In terms of Spanish etymology, though, pigs are already up there in the clouds.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kami
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 15:41:35

    Interesante… tal vez por eso decimos “cuando las vacas vuelen” en lugar de cerdos XD


  2. wordconnections
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 16:19:36

    The phrase vacas vuelen is both rhythmic and alliterative. In searching the Internet, I found the full statement in the indicative as well as the subjunctive. In 2004 there was a Chilean movie named Y las vacas vuelan. Coincidentally, for several decades I’ve owned a painting by a Mexican painter entitled “La vaca voladora,” which shows a cow blasting off like a rocket ship


  3. Don Levesque
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 20:22:50

    Then there’s lechón, suckling pig or young porker often roasted for a feast or holiday.


  4. wordconnections
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 21:55:06

    Right you are. The word is alive not just in Spanish-speaking countries but also in the Philippines, which of course used to be a Spanish colony.


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  6. Harriet Vered
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 08:36:05

    Presumably the Celti-Iberians named their pigs long before any Roman soldiers turned up. There’s a Welsh goddess called Cerridwen, translated as “white sow”. Do you think there’s a connection with cerdo?


  7. wordconnections
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 11:35:46

    An interesting conjecture. I know almost nothing about the Celtic languages, alas. We’d have to turn to experts in Celtic, who might be able to tell us the origins of Ceddidwen. From those origins we’d be able to see if there’s a link to the Roman description of a pig as ‘bristly.’

    I just did a little searching and found the following in the Wikipedia article for Ceridwen: “There are several possible interpretations of the name ‘Ceridwen’. The earliest recorded form, found in the Black Book of Carmarthen, is Cyrridven.[1] This was interpreted by Sir Ifor Williams as “crooked woman” (cyrrid < cwrr "crooked or bent"? + ben "woman, female"), although the precise meaning of cyrrid is uncertain.[2][3] Another possible meaning for the second element, based on the much more common form 'Ceridwen', is "fair, beloved" or "blessed, sacred" (gwen, mutated here to -wen, is a common element in female saints' names, e.g. Dwynwen).[4]"

    Wikipedia isn't always trustworthy, but at least the statements made in the article have footnotes that give sources (which you can follow up by going to the article).


  8. Harriet Vered
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:24:51

    Why would a goddess be called “crooked” or “bent”? Perhaps her name describes Cerridwen-as-hag, she is after all Keeper of the Cauldron, an item traditionally associated with witchery. More charitably, ‘cerid’ could be a variation on cardo meaning centre or core as in ‘cardinal’.

    I find it hard to see cirrus clouds as pig-like. They’re usually compared to mare’s tails, rather more poetic than ‘bristles of a pig’…


  9. wordconnections
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 15:36:39

    It’s not that cirrus clouds look specifically pig-like, but that the clouds are metaphorical ‘tufts,’ from the original sense of Latin cirrus.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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