Sunday, October 26, 2008

“A Pig in a Poke / Let the Cat out of the Bag:” Entomology is the study of insects; etymology is the study of the history and development of the meaning of words. Not to be confused then, unless you want to know how the word “insect” came into the English language!

Today’s bit of silliness is to reveal to you, if you didn’t already know, the meaning behind the two English idioms in the title above. I think it’s fair to say that letting the cat out of the bag is the more well known—meaning the disclosure of a secret—but did you know that the two phrases are related?

“Poke” is a diminutive of pocket but is also dialect for a bag or sack: so we actually have a pig in a sack. Or do we? Imagine yourself in a bustling 16th century market, vendors shouting out bargains, and you hear a pig being offered at a really low price with a wriggling sack being shoved into your face. It’s a blind bargain. Do you take it quickly or risk losing the discount of the day? You pass over your pennies and grab your bargain bag.

You know what’s going to happen now, don’t you? You get home, pleased with your purchase and then, in front of your family and wearing a proud smile, you open the sack, letting the cat out of the bag. You’ve been had: it wasn’t a porky bargain at all but rather a stray cat. I hope I’ve explained this clearly and, with the aid of one of our cats, here’s a demonstration …
(the laughter in the background is Gabrielle's brother, Bruin, who was here to stay)