When pigs fly and pigs might fly

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When pigs fly and pigs might fly are two variations of an idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as kick the bucket, hit the sack, under the weather, barking up the wrong tree, piece of cake, when hell freezes over, let sleeping dogs lie, Achilles heel, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expressions when pigs fly and pigs might fly, where the phrases came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

When pigs fly and pigs might fly are two idioms that describe something that is very unlikely to happen, something improbable, something that only a gullible person would believe. When pigs fly is primarily the American version of the phrase, pigs might fly is primarily the British version of the phrase. The expressions are often used in reply to an outrageous, naive or ridiculous statement, as a way to express one’s doubt. The terms when pigs fly and pigs might fly have their roots in an expression found in John Withal’s A Shorte Dictionarie for Yonge Begynners, which was a Latin-English dictionary published in 1616: “Pigs fly in the ayre with their tayles forward.” The idea is that pigs are not only flying through the air, they are flying backward. This is purported to be a Scottish proverb, so the true age of the idiom is unknown. Comparing someone’s idea to flying pigs has the connotation of derision or ridicule, and should only be used among friends who are gently teasing each other. It should never be used in formal correspondence. More than one farm animal has been purported to fly, but the pig has remained the favored subject of the idiom. When pigs fly and pigs might fly are adynatons, which are figures of speech that are so hyperbolic that they are impossible.


We probably all have used the phrase ‘when pigs fly’ at one time or another to refer to something we thought was impossible, right? (The Norwalk Reflector)

Orville and Wilbur haven’t heard the phrase, “when pigs fly.” (The Baltimore Sun)

Perhaps as a response to Gucci’s fanciful collections, Michele took the saying “when pigs fly” literally this season, creating glittering winged pig embellishments for dresses and blazers. (Vogue Magazine)

She said: “And there are those who say that pigs will fly before you get Theresa May’s deal through Parliament.” (The Daily Express)