If pigs had wings

Spanish has a lively expression that English doesn’t share, cerdo de vida. Translated literally, that would be the inexplicable ‘life pig,’ but the Diccionario de la lengua española explains that the phrase refers to a ‘cerdo que no ha cumplido un año, y no está todavía bien criado para la matanza,’ which is to say ‘a pig that is less than a year old and isn’t yet ready to be slaughtered.’ Lucky pig: in contrast, a cerdo de muerte is a ‘cerdo que ha pasado de un año, y es apto ya para la matanza,’ or ‘a pig that is more than a year old and is now ready to be slaughtered.’

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.


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. navasolanature
    Aug 06, 2015 @ 06:41:35

    Great insight into the little pigs. Lots of black ones around here to make Jabugo jamon. Lucky because they generally still roam free but not my cup a cerdo!


  2. Trackback: If pigs had wings | highlandspanish
  3. shoreacres
    Aug 08, 2015 @ 17:02:13

    It’s interesting that the colloquial name for certain cirrus clouds in English is mare’s tail. Perhaps the mane in Spain is clearer from the plain.

    After all this cloud talk, I somehow remembered The Clouds, by Aristophanes. I don’t remember reading it in school, although I surely was introduced to it. In any event, not even a quarter of the way through a synopsis, I already was laughing, and ready to give it a read. Socrates in an airborne basket is as good as flying pigs.


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