put lipstick on a pig: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘put lipstick on a pig’ mean?

"Put lipstick on a pig" is an idiom that means attempting to make something or someone appear more attractive or appealing, despite its inherent flaws or shortcomings.

Idiom Explorer


The idiom "put lipstick on a pig" is a commonly used phrase in American English that conveys the notion of attempting to make something unattractive or unsatisfactory appear more appealing or desirable through superficial or cosmetic means. This idiom is often employed in various contexts such as politics, business, and everyday conversations.

The phrase "put lipstick on a pig" is believed to have originated in the early 20th century and potentially draws inspiration from the act of applying makeup to enhance one's physical appearance. However, its specific etymology remains uncertain and subject to interpretation. Despite the lack of a precise origin, the idiom has gained significant popularity and widespread usage over time.

When this idiom is used, it denotes the act of attempting to disguise or mask the true nature or quality of something by applying superficial improvements. The underlying implication of the idiom "put lipstick on a pig" is that no matter how much effort is put into enhancing the exterior or appearance of something, the fundamental flaws or unattractiveness cannot be hidden completely.

The idiom "put lipstick on a pig" is often invoked to criticize attempts to deceive or mislead others by presenting a superficially improved image without addressing the underlying issues. It highlights the futility of attempting to cover up fundamental flaws, suggesting that they will ultimately be exposed or recognized despite surface-level enhancements.

This phrase is frequently used in political discourse to criticize policies, proposals, or individuals who try to present themselves or their ideas in a positive light while disregarding significant problems or disadvantages. By equating the act of putting lipstick on a pig to the act of disguising or downplaying flaws, this idiom serves as a cautionary reminder about the limitations of appearances.

The illusion of a makeover was merely a disguise.

make a pig of oneself.

Beyond politics, the idiom "put lipstick on a pig" is also employed in the business world to comment on marketing strategies, product development, or corporate practices that prioritize surface-level enhancements or superficial changes rather than addressing substantive issues or concerns. It conveys a sense of skepticism or cynicism towards such approaches and emphasizes the importance of genuine improvement.

make a mountain out of a molehill.

While the idiom "put lipstick on a pig" is widely recognized and understood by native English speakers, its metaphorical nature and cultural context may pose challenges for non-native speakers or those unfamiliar with American idiomatic expressions. Therefore, it is essential to consider the audience and ensure clarity when using this idiom in communication.

To make a pig of oneself means to overindulge or to consume an excessive amount of something, typically food or drink. This idiom is used to criticize someone's lack of self-control or moderation in their behavior. It stems from the idea of a pig's voracious appetite and lack of restraint when it comes to eating.

The idiom "make a mountain out of a molehill" is used to describe the act of exaggerating or blowing a small or insignificant issue out of proportion. It suggests that someone is making a big deal out of something that is relatively unimportant or trivial. This idiom highlights the tendency of some individuals to create unnecessary drama or stress by magnifying minor problems or conflicts.

Ultimately, the idiom "put lipstick on a pig" encapsulates the idea that attempting to enhance the surface-level appearance of something without addressing underlying flaws or inadequacies is an exercise in futility. It serves as a cautionary reminder about the limitations of cosmetic changes and the importance of addressing substantive issues to effect genuine improvement.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "put lipstick on a pig" can be used in a sentence:

  • He tried to improve the company's image by putting lipstick on a pig, but customers were not fooled.
  • She tried to make her old car look more attractive by getting it cleaned, but it was like putting lipstick on a pig.
  • The politician's attempt to revive his dying campaign was criticized as merely putting lipstick on a pig instead of addressing the real issues.

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