Rescuing the Poor Pig From Its Filthy Reputation

Auntie Polly, vacationing in Seoul, sends word from Pig Valley that not only is 1995 the Year of the Pig in several Asian countries, but that ``a private research institute'' there has published ``the locations ... of some 2,000 places named after pigs in South Korea'' (appended herewith her initials: AP).

Apart from feeling a modicum of amazement as to how some research institutes spend their time, I am wondering whether or not we, in the West, shouldn't also have a Year of the Pig. It might be an opportunity to rescue the poor creature's reputation from years of political incorrectness. We cannot claim to have always been respectful toward this domesticated animal - refusing to cast our pearls before it, refusing to convert its ears into silk purses, andcalling it filthy.

In my gazetteer of Britain, I can find only one place named after the pig. And not many more after the hog. The expression ``Pigs to you!'' is an Australian insult. Cuba's Bay of Pigs has an indelibly bad name in United States annals, and there was also an unfortunate tendency in the 1960s for certain authority-figures (such as the police) to be called pigs (adopting a much earlier usage), and for antifeminist males to be dubbed ``male chauvinist pigs.'' Even the redoubtable Miss Piggy, although adorable of course, could be described as, well, vain and whimsical by unsympathetic detractors.

It has all been frightfully deleterious to the self-image of the pig.

Admittedly, there have been those prepared to speak well of the pig. Jules Renard, Edward Lear, Beatrix Potter, and E.B. White, to name but four ``pigophiles,'' have recognized that a childish fondness for pigs does not necessarily vanish in adulthood.

But in Asia, the pig symbolizes wealth and good fortune, so why are Westerners so down on it? It was not always so, perhaps.

In 11th-century Britain, when the survey called the Domesday Book was carried out, the number of pigs a manor possessed was importantly listed, and pigs were second only to sheep as popular farm animals. They were kept in woods and fed on acorns. Until maybe 20 years ago, a few country people still fattened a pig each year, reared piglets, kept a pigsty in the garden. And then the pig seemed to disappear with the decisiveness of an extinct species.

In fact, pig farming had become an indoor, concentration-camp affair, and pigs were unseen and forgotten by most people in Britain.

Now, however, in the last year, we have begun to see fields full of open-air pigs once again. This appears to be the result of some new fashion in agriculture. But their reappearance has the freshness of unfamiliarity and has a feel-good factor about it.

Since we are too late to set things up for this year, perhaps we should designate 1996 the Year of the Return of the Pig. And rename a town or two to boot.

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