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The Canine in Conversation
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sold a pup. Swindled; been the victim of bait-and-switch; been bested in a negotiation or a deal.reference 1

Probably you have heard the expression, “don't buy a pig in a poke.” On the other hand, you probably have no idea what a “poke” is or why such a purchase poses potential problems. The proverbial poke is a sack. And the reason to be wary of buying a pig so contained is that what is in the sack might not be a pig at all. In fact, the seller may have substituted a puppy. So unless someone lets the cat out of the bag (Schrödinger's cat,reference 2 most likely) prior to procurement, you could be swindled. Thus we now know not only what the phrase means, but also the relative values of pigs, pups, and cats.

This phrase is far less common, especially in the US, than its companion catch phrases noted above. Which is all the more reason why you might be confused if you come across it. Most recent attributions go to Brits. The BBC reports that in a recently declassified letter Winston Churchill (the Bulldog, himself) “complained that he had been ‘sold a pup’ when he discovered that his underground wartime headquarters in Whitehall were not bomb-proof.”reference 3 Stoic hero that he was, Churchill stayed there anyway.

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When the New York Times used the phrase in a 1994 story about Rupert Murdoch's purchase of STAR TV, they not only put it in quotes but also felt obliged to define it.reference 4


1. Scorpio. Expressions & Sayings. Scorpio Tales. Accessed Jul 24 2009 from http:// gswithenbank/ sayingsl.htm.

2. Schrödinger's Cat is shorthand for a paradoxical thought experiment outlined by physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. The experiment posits a cat enclosed in a steel chamber. The cat may be alive or dead, depending on an earlier random atomic event; its actual status is unknown until the sack, erchamber, is opened. The experiement was intended to illuminate the problem of applying quantum mechanics to everyday objects.

3. Coughlan, Sean. 2009. Churchill Bunker 'Not Bomb-Proof'. BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed Jul 24 2009 from http:// 2/ hi/uk_news/ 8158099.stm.

4. Murphy, Kevin. 1994. But Competition Is Hot as the Asian Market Grows : Star Tv Beams into Sharper Focus. New York Times, Jul 5. Accessed Jul 24, 2009 from http:// 1994/ 07/05/ business/ worldbusiness/ 05iht-star_0.html?scp=1&sq=.


About the illustration: Figure 1 is a modified version of a royalty free image from © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation. Caption added.

Figure 2 is not Churchill but Murdoch.This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

  Last updated: February 18, 2010
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