A Pig in a Poke

Meaning of “A Pig in a Poke”

The phrase ‘a pig in a poke’ is an English proverb. It means to buy something or accept a deal without examining or knowing about it. This expression is used to caution people before they purchase and receive something without thoroughly assessing or inspecting it. In this idiom, the noun “poke” is an old English word which denotes a bag, sack, or pouch. This phrase was introduced in the Middle Ages when meat was scarce. The traders would deliberately sell less valued meat of cats or dogs to cheat the customers. It has also been a guiding principle of commerce in many countries. In this context, it summarises the wise advice, let the buyers beware before purchasing goods because without a prior sight that thing may not turn as valuable as one expects.

Origin of “A Pig in a Poke”

This phrase is indeed ancient. However, it also has several variants, such as, “a pig in a pouch” and “don’t buy a pig in a poke”. In Proverbs and Epigrammes published in 1555, John Heywood, the English playwright and epigrammatist, included the current version of this phrase and wrote: “I will neuer bye the pyg in the poke.” Later on, Robert Green’s Mamillia also states similar phrase.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

A Pig in a Poke by Rhys Davies

Rhys Davies, a Welsh novelist and short story writer, has written this short story collection. The story title ‘A Pig in a Poke’ is similar to the proverb used. Almost all the stories demonstrate the theme of this phrase in one or the other way. The story, having this phrase as its title shows, its protagonist, a collier from Wales, who marries a Londoner lady. After going through this seemingly exotic experience of that time, he later regrets the commitment. It shows that he should have been aware of this before marrying. The phrase has been used in the meanings that a person should know about a person’s nature before getting into a relationship just like testing things before buying.

Example #2

Don’t Buy a Pig in a Poke by Harry Graham

“Unscrupulous pigmongers will
Attempt to wheedle and to coax
The ignorant young housewife till
She purchases her pigs in pokes;
Beast that got a Lurid Past,
Or else are far Too Good to Last.

So, should you not desire to be
The victim of a cruel hoax,
Then promise me, ah! promise me,
You will not purchase pigs in pokes!
(‘Twould be an error just as big
To poke your purchase in a pig.)…”

Harry Graham, an English journalist, turned writer of the late 19th century, wrote this poem. Each verse is advice filled with wisdom, given to ignorant homemakers. Its listener could also be a gullible purchaser. It deals with the themes such as betrayal, dishonesty, and tricks played by pig-mongers to deceive their customers. The narrator also vows to teach the person listening not to be persuaded by clever sellers to buy anything hidden in a bag. This phrase has been used to show that housewives are often victims and deceived by the sellers.

Example #3

Pig in a Poke by Sheryl L. Nelms

“Sold by a Kansas farmer
On Craigslist
To a six-foot five inch
Gothic man
Loaded with a wooden ramp
Into the backseat of a Ford Focus
The three-pound sold,
settled down onto the
green velour cushions
and defecated.”

Sheryl L. Nelms, a contemporary American writer, used this phrase as a title of this short poem. The phrase is used metaphorically. The pig, which is bought by the farmer from a man, depicts the power of the buyer. As soon as he takes that heavy pig into the soft-cushioned car, it relieves itself. Here, the poet wants to convey that even a very smart buyer, sometimes, become a victim of the tricks and deceptions of the sellers.

Examples in Sentences

Example#1: “Beware! Beware! About buying that house at the beach. It might turn out to be a pig in a poke.” The structure of this phrase is an example of anaphora. The word “beware” emphasizes the importance of being vigilant while buying a house.

Example#2: “Macula’s deal is surely a pig in a poke because he often cunningly cheats.” In this sentence, the phrase has been used metaphorically. The blind bargain is used as a metaphor of the deal.

Example#3: “Your offer is as deceitful as buying a pig in a poke.” The use of “as” in this sentence shows that it is a simile. Thus, the phrase has been compared with a fraudulent offer.

Example#4: “A pig in a poke never jumps out to tell the vendor’s trick; one has to be cautious enough before buying something.” Here in this sentence, the phrase is used as a subject. However, the whole sentence is an example of parallelism that shows two sentences are parallel.

Example#5: “The merchant did not wish to sell his fellow a pig in a poke. Ruefully, he could not hide his true colors and swindled his fellow also. As soon as he handed the bag to his fellow, the fellow offered him his own torn bag.” In this sentence, the phrase is used as situational irony.

Example#6: “Don’t be unfair and always sell a pig in a poke.” This sentence has used an ambiguous statement as fair marketing and the phrase “a pig in a poke” contradicts each other.