Thursday, 11 September 2008

Lipstick on a Pig: The Porcine of the Species

Well neither Barak Obama nor John McCain were first to coin the phrase "putting lipstick on a pig" though both have used it it was first cited in the online Urban Dictionary as far back as August 10, 2004; when it was defined as:

A term used by many, generally in reference to someone who may be trying to make something or someone look appealing or attractive when it quite clearly will not work, or will only deceive the dumbest of people.

Although Time magazine ran a story ran a story on the history of the phrase and it first sprung from funding for an American football stadium in 1985.

"One of the oldest published quotes using the entire phrase appeared in
The Washington Post in November 1985. Asked by the San Francisco Board of
Supervisors to put his station's $20,000 fundraiser earnings toward the
renovation of Candlestick Park, KNBR personality Ron Lyons scoffed, "That would
be like putting lipstick on a pig."
Well there's no doubt this idiom survived the collision of two words and thoughts to conjure up a phrase that has a specific use and parlance. This evolution of language has seen the word survive and be fit to be used by both candidates during this election cycle. So why the brouhaha over it's use? Has it really become a term of sexist abuse as the latest attack ads on US TV would have us believe? Lets look into the context of how both Senator's use the phrase.

The first use was by the Senator from Arizona not as they may have you believe by the one from Illinois. It was actually made in the context of a female opponent. As CNN reports it was John McCain who first used the phrase:

In Iowa last October, McCain drew comparisons between Hillary Clinton's current
health care plan and the one she championed in 1993: "I think they put some
lipstick on the pig, but it's still a pig." He used roughly the same line in
May, after effectively claiming the Republican nomination.

Now look at the alleged sexist use of the phrase by Barak Obama on Monday in Virginia.

"John McCain says he's about change too, and so I guess his whole angle is,
'Watch out George Bush -- except for economic policy, health care policy, tax
policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics -- we're
really going to shake things up in Washington.'

"That's not change. That's just calling something the same thing something
different. You know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You
know you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still
going to stink after eight years. We've had enough of the same old thing."

Now maybe McCain spokesman Brian Rogers can tell me what he thinks is the "big difference" between the two references. He says:

"McCain was referring to a policy proposal. Obama was referring to [Alaska]
Gov. Sarah Palin. It's obviously disrespectful and offensive.

"Who has been talking about lipstick lately? It was obvious. The crowd
went crazy because of it."

Erm well lets take a careful look at those two paragraphs of text from Barak. He starts by stating he is talking about McCain, about his lining up with Bushes policy in Washington. Now as Sarah Palin who actually described herself (and all hockey moms) as a pitbull with lipstick, loves to remind us she isn't one of the Washington set. So clearly she cannot be lining up change in line with those policies i.e. putting lipstick on a pig.

He carries on after the first analogy with a second about fish in paper still stinking after 8 years again a reference to the Bush policies that McCain has supported. The context is complete on either side of the edit that is doing the rounds in republican circles and on the airwaves in the States. Fortunately as the Huffington Post points out many in the media are not so easily fooled or deceived like the dumbest people.

No where in what Obama said does he refer to, nor hint at, Governor Palin. Of course McCain only started talking about "change" after the Democratic candidates in the primaries got mileage from it. Surely instead of a sexism charge which has no foundation in truth a trades description violation should be levelled at the McCain camp.

One senator used the phrase "putting lipstick on a pig" in relation to a female opponent. But the female opponent in question Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't take offence at it, nor use it to turn the tables on the man who said it, because Hillary is more of a man about it that McCain, Brian Rogers or his campaign team are.


  1. "Hillary is more a man about it"...

    I'm sorry Stephen, who's being sexist now?

    Even in your bout of blind partisanism you must recognise that the only reason Obama used the phrase was because Sarah Palin had used one regarding lipstick last week.

    He knew it would get this kind of attention when he did it.

  2. Actually I propably should have used the word adult about it, and yes I did use the word man as in little boys runs off to tell half truths, whereas adults look at the full context.

    It's a idiom of speech, admittedly more common in America than here indeed Obama has used it over a year ago to discribe one task in the war in Iraq therefore he uses the phrase. But if you ever see a pig after being marked in the owners symbol by paint you'll know they start rolling around, rubbing up against objects, anything to try and remove it. Therefore lipstick on a pig is next to useless, that's the illustration that Virginia

    Looking at the flow of the speech by Barak yeah it may well have been scripted and added becauseof the conoctation with the opposing Veep nominee but the same would have been used with any phrase assosicated with them whether they were male or female.

  3. "...but the same would have been used with any phrase assosicated with them whether they were male or female."

    Really Stephen? Unless you are now writing Obama's speeches (in which case, congrats - that's a big step up from being a Lib Dem activist) how can you be sure that is the case?

  4. Common practise is to use a phrase that you opponent has used to great effect. The public know it and you try and use that familiarity to your own benefit. It also happens sub consciously you find yourself using a work that your opponent has been brandying about which may not even be your normal way of expalaining things. My ex picked up on me doing that once in 2005 and pointed out exactly where it came from.

    Look at McCain taking hold of the whole Change thing, its that the people have connected to so he tries to promise it.

    Spot the differnce

    Scrap the Tax or Axe the Tax.

    Although to be honest I think the SNP got the better of that one with Axe.

  5. Republicans see the remark about lipstick as an affront upon Palin, because she uses the term in her promotional speeches (like "You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."), while Democrats state that the common expression, used by Obama, has nothing to do with Mrs Palin.

  6. McCain has become quite the politician since he got his party's nomination... he has proven time and again that his strategy for winning is based on personal attacks and distracting people from the main issues

  7. This back and forth is so retarded, it just makes me despise politics more than I already do.

    Yes, I used the word retarded. Deal with it.

  8. Thanks Namų I think that was a little of the point I was trying to get across.

    Patrick sadly I can agree with what you said, and this is from a man who only a few short weeks ago condemned negative campaigning. I think the attack dogs have been let out. (BTW world that is not a direct link, or reference to Gvnr. Palin it is whoever has ramped up the Republican Campaign Karl Rowe et al)

    Joodah. I was trying to balance and contextualise the usage of the phrase. Of course when one side tkaes an over-reactionary stance to something that is in common usage and part of every day life and spins it to the extent that the attack ads have it needs to be retorted. I was hoping to shed some light on the thing and even after the start of the comments here started a poll on the issue with further thought on the matter.

  9. this is such shit. For obama it didn't even cross his mind that his statement would be taken this way because it takes a sexist to think like that. bloody republicans.