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Sunday, April 22, 2012

"You Can't Make A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow's Ear"

"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear"

You can't change the fundamental nature of things. You have to have the right starting material to make something or generate a useful idea; you cannot make a good quality product using bad quality materials; you can't make something good from inferior or inappropriate raw material; you are unable to turn something ugly or inferior into something attractive or valuable. Sometimes it's used about people as in, "She's low class, you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear." Other times it's used about material things like "That fabric is too coarse to use for an evening dress, you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear."

The proverb was first found in Alexander Barclay's Eclogues in c. 1514. The Eclogues were the English translation of Johnannes Baptista Spanolo Mantuanus (1448 - 1516), a Mantuan Latin poet and Carmelite monk.

"A man cannot make a cheverill purse of a sow's eare" - Randle Cotgrave, Dictionary: Pigeon (1611)

"You will never make a satin purse of a Sowe's eare" - James Howell, English Proverbs, p13. (1659)

"A hog in armour is still but a hog" - Thomas Fuller, the British physician (1732)

"Hog in armour" alludes to "an awkward or mean looking man or woman, finely dressed." - The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796)

First attested to in th U.S. in Modern Chivalry by Hugh Henry Breckenridge (1816).

"A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog" - The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, in his book of proverbs The Salt-Cellars (published 1887).

A more modern rendition is "You can't put lipstick on a pig". Lipstick was not a word until about 1880. The rhetorical effect of linking pigs with lipstick was explored in 1926 by Charles F. Lummis, in the Los Angeles Times, when he wrote "Most of us know as much of history as a pig does of lipsticks."

In an article in the Quad-City Herald (Brewster, Washington) from Jan. 31 1980, it was observed that "You can clean up a pig, put a ribbon on it's [sic] tail, spray it with perfume, but it is still a pig."

After that it became a more common phrase.

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