Continuing on from last week’s blog on animal noises around the world, this week I will be discussing the noise made by a pig.
In contrast to the happy agreement on what noise a sheep makes is the variety of noises offered up for the sound of a pig. In English when imitating a pig we generally make a snorting noise through our noses, however when committed to paper a pig is said to ‘oink’.
According to The Oxford Dictionary ‘oink’ was first recorded in the 1940s. This indicates that ‘oink’ is a fairly modern take on the pig’s grunt. If we look at traditional nursery rhymes, such as This Little Piggy (which according to The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes was first written down in c.1728), we notice that the pig goes ‘wee wee wee, all the way home’. Further, as etymologist Anatoly Liberman discusses in his work Word Origins, in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (which was published in 1930 but penned years earlier) when Pig Robinson is kidnapped he shouts ‘wee wee’ “like a little Frenchman”.
Pigs are also sometimes said to squeak, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes contains this rhyme from 1832:
This little pig says, I want wheat
This little pig says, where will you get it?
This little pig says, father’s barn
This little pig says, I can’t get over the door-sill
This little pig cries, Squeak! Squeak!
This then would suggest that in English ‘oink’ has only superseded ‘wee wee’ or ‘squeak, squeak’ in recent history. In 1979, children’s author Roger Hargreaves wrote a story about a pig called Oink – the book is part of a series where each character is named after their onomatopoeic animal sound – suggesting that ‘oink’ was in common usage by this time.
It is interesting to note then that in other languages ‘oink’ or similar is also used. In Spanish they use ‘oing’, while German, Italian and Portuguese also use ‘oink’. Another similar sounding word is the Danish ‘øf’.
Perhaps due to the indistinct grunting noise a pig makes, the alternatives around the world differ wildly. In Japan pigs are said to grunt ‘boo boo’, while in Mandarin they say ‘heng heng’, and Russian ‘hru hru’.
In Dutch the verb ‘knorren’ is used to describe the noise a pig makes and they are said to grunt ‘knor knor’. The French use ‘groin groin’ (this can also be used for wild boar as seen in the Asterix comics by Uderzo and Goscinny).
In Korea a greater attempt at the guttural sound of a snort is used ‘ggul ggul’, whereas in Croatian they imitate a more high-pitched squeal with ‘squick’. When written down these sounds often seem far removed from an actual pig’s grunt, but if you say them aloud through your nose (go on, don’t be shy) then they become much more imitative.
The pig sound has caused substantial linguistic divergence across the world although it seems likely that this difference occurs mainly in how the varying languages choose to write a pig sound. I suspect that if a child from anywhere in the world was asked to imitate a pig they would simply snort through their nose.
How do you make a pig noise? Please leave a comment!