Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

George Bernard Shaw? Mark Twain? Abraham Lincoln? Cyrus Stuart Ching? J. Frank Condon? Richard P. Calhoon? N. H. Eagle? Cale Yarborough? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular metaphorical adage warns individuals not to engage with disreputable critics. Here are two versions:

  1. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.
  2. Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

This saying has been credited to a triumvirate of quotation superstars: Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and George Bernard Shaw. I doubt these ascriptions because I haven’t seen any solid citations. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.

The adage evolved in a multistep multi-decade process. An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776. QI has a separate article about that saying: Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.

In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated; nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.

The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.

The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by QI appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The ellipsis is in the original text: 2

A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.

“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.'”

Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a pre-existing item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




QI thanks the researchers Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Barry Popik for their pioneering work on this topic.

In 1882 the “Worcester Daily Spy” of Worcester, Massachusetts printed a partial match within an article about a sale of railroad stock: 3

Mr. Thayer of Worcester renewed his argument against the sale. He was particularly earnest against the bill, and opposed especially Mr. Brown of Boston, his parting shot being that he had heard that one should not wrestle with a pig, for he would be smeared, but he (Thayer) was not to be frightened from his course, and would inform the gentleman from Boston that he (Thayer) was not to be driven from the pen. (Laughter and applause.)

In 1884 a temperance advocate Will J. McConnell was quoted in “The Warren Mail” of Warren, Pennsylvania: 4

You know, if you wrestle with a hog you will become dirty, no matter whether you or the hog should gain the fall.

In 1896 “The Wichita Daily Eagle” of Wichita, Kansas reported on a financial disagreement during which John Hoenscheidt employed the partial saying: 5

He was at a hotel in Atchison and although we did not owe him a cent I gave him this money to get rid of him and took his receipt in full, not because I considered that we owed him a cent, but I realized that to quarrel with him would be like wrestling with a hog. The association would be smeared whether it would throw the colonel or whether the colonel would throw it.

In 1946 Richard P. Calhoon who was a corporate personnel director published an advice book: “Moving Ahead on Your Job” which included a version of the adage using the verb “wallow” instead of “wrestle”. This was the first instance known to QI indicating the happiness of the pig: 6

Sometimes a man likes to get you into an argument first to show that he is as smart as you are. And when you begin refuting one another’s reasons, fussing back and forth, you generally do what a nationally known industrial relations authority warns you against: you wallow in the mud with the pig. He says, “Never wallow in the mud with a pig, because the pig likes it.” That is exactly what he wants, because you are on his home ground. He can think of arguments as well as you can, so where do you come out?

Calhoon disclaimed credit and attributed the remark to an unnamed “industrial relations authority”. QI conjectures that the referent was Cyrus Stuart Ching.

In May 1947 the short version of the saying from the 1800s was still circulating. The syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler attributed an instance to a union representative: 7

Commenting on some of my pearls of wisdom in his own official publication last December, Dave Beck, of Seattle, the sixth vice-president of the Teamsters’ Union, said “the man who wrestles with a pig will get dirty, even if he is not thrown.”

In January 1948 “The Saturday Evening Post” published the first strong match from Ching as noted previously:

I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.'”

In April 1948 a newspaper in Akron, Ohio printed a remark from N. H. Eagle who was the organizational director of the United Rubber Workers: 8

“I shouldn’t bother to reply to their malicious lies. I learned that you can’t wrestle with a pig without getting dirty and the pig likes it,” Eagle said.

In May 1948 the prominent columnist Walter Winchell published an instance. The speaker was unnamed, but the heckler scenario fit Ching. The father of the speaker received credit: 9

Some politicians were discussing hecklers. One of them said he never made reply. “Many years ago,” he explained, “my father told me never to roll in the mud with a pig. Because you both get covered with mud — and the pig likes it.”

In November 1949 the Chicago Daily News Service distributed a story about Ching that included the adage which was attributed to Ching’s grandfather: 10

When a caller asks his secretary if Mr. Ching is Chinese he says: “Oh, just tell them I am not Chinese, but three-quarters Scotch and one-quarter soda.”

When someone heckles him in the middle of a talk, he says: “Back in Canada my grandfather told me never to get in the mud with a pig. You’ll get muddy, and the pig likes it.”

In October 1950 “Time” magazine printed an instance from Ching: 11

“I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig,” Ching likes to say. “You get dirty and besides the pig likes it.” When the time comes to crack down hard on employers or workers, the job may need a man who doesn’t mind getting dirty if he has to.

In 1953 “The Speaker’s Treasury of Stories for All Occasions” by Herbert V. Prochnow credited Ching: 12

THE PIG LIKES IT
Cyrus Ching is widely known as a government mediator in labor troubles. He says, “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides the pig likes it.”

In 1982 a sports writer ascribed the homespun wisdom to a racecar driver: 13

Stock car driver Cale Yarborough’s advice for living: “Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty but the pig will enjoy it.”

In 1994 a Usenet discussion system message attributed the saying to the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw who had died decades earlier in 1950: 14

I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. – George Bernard Shaw

In 1996 a Usenet message uncertainly attributed the saying to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln who had died in 1865: 15

“Never mud-wrestle with a pig.” “You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it!” -Abraham Lincoln- (Or was it Thomas Jefferson?) (Maybe it was Richard Nixon?) (Anyhoo, SOMEONE said it.)

In 2001 a story in the “New York Post” quoted a “New York Times” reporter who ascribed the saying to Shaw: 16

Reached yesterday at his Moscow office, Wines was reluctant to discuss the attack. “George Bernard Shaw once said, Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it,'” Wines observed.

Also in 2001 a Usenet discussion system message attributed the saying to the renowned humorist Mark Twain who died in 1910: 17

Guys, give it up. As Twain said, never wrestle with a pig – it gets mud all over you and the pig likes it.

In conclusion, the adage is anonymous; it evolved over a period of decades, and Cyrus Stuart Ching was an important popularizer. The ascriptions to George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, and Abraham Lincoln are unsupported.

In 1872 an unidentified “wise man” was credited with a version that did not mention the mental state of the swine. In 1946 an unnamed “industrial relations authority” (perhaps Ching) received credit for a version using the verb “wallow” and the phrase “pig likes it”. In 1948 Ching attributed a version using the verb “wrestle” and the phrase “pig likes it” to his uncle.

Image Notes: Picture of pig from Jai79 at Pixabay. Portrait of Cyrus Ching from the U. S. Department of Labor; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Simon Koppel, Ivan Plis, Mededitor, and RaPUNzel whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Bonnie Taylor-Blake and who located the valuable 1872 citation and others. Also thanks to Barry Popik who found the important 1946, May 1948 citations and others.)

Notes:

  1. 1872 February 3, The Cambria Freeman, Communication, (Letter to the Editor from J. Frank Condon; letter date Jan 29, 1872), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com and Chronicling America)
  2. 1948 January 3, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 220 Number 27, The Two-Fisted Wisdom of Ching by Beverly Smith, Start Page 15, Quote Page 58, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis Indiana. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)
  3. 1882 March 3, Worcester Daily Spy, The Legislature: The House Votes to Sell the Boston and Albany Stock-Sketch of the Debate, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Worcester, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1884 October 14, The Warren Mail, The Temperance Lecturer Defines His Position, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Warren, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  5. 1896 August 26, The Wichita Daily Eagle, Hits the Colonel: John Hoenschiedt Comes Back at Colonel Ellsworth, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Wichita, Kansas. (Chronicling America)
  6. 1946, Moving Ahead on Your Job by Richard P. Calhoon (Personnel Director, Kendall Mills), Chapter 28: Discuss Rather than Argue, Quote Page 171, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Internet Archive Full View) link
  7. 1947 May 16, Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, Fair Enough by Westbrook Pegler, Quote Page 18, Column 4, Santa Cruz, California. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1948 April 24, The Akron Beacon Journal, Eagle Blasts ULP Charge, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Akron, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1948 May 31, Valley Evening Monitor (The Monitor), On Broadway with Walter Winchell, Quote Page 4, Column 6, McAllen, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1949 November 19, The San Diego Union, Ching in Huge Stride by Radford Mobley (Chicago Daily News Service), Quote Page B2, Column 6, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)
  11. 1950 October 23, Time, The Administration: Come & Get It, Time Inc., New York. (Online Time Archive at time.com; accessed March 4, 2016)
  12. 1953, The Speaker’s Treasury of Stories for All Occasions by Herbert V. Prochnow, Section: Labor, Quote Page 180, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New York. (Internet Archive archive.org)
  13. 1982 April 30, Fort Lauderdale News, Rick just didn’t measure up; never wrestle a pig by Bernie Lincicome (Sports Editor), Quote Page C1, Column 3, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  14. 1994 April 7, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.quotations, From: Khaled Mardam-bey @westminster.ac.uk, Subject: Re: DON’T ANNOY THE PIG. (Google Groups Search; Accessed July 8, 2017) link
  15. 1996 December 26, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: rec.music.artists.reb-st-james, From: awwe…@juno.com, Subject: Flaming: Defined. (Google Groups Search; Accessed July 8, 2017) link
  16. 2001 April 10, New York Post, Timesman Nailed with Putrid Pie, Section: Page Six, Quote Page 8, New York, New York. (NewsBank Access World News)
  17. 2001 April 15, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: talk.origins, From: John Wilkins @bigpond.com, Subject: Re: How/when did evolution become The Enemy? (Google Groups Search; Accessed July 8, 2017) link