Putting lipstick on pigs

Looking real cute with lipstick! Pic: erikjheels.com

This rather harmless and colorful little expression has gained some notoriety over the last few years for its use in political campaigns.  But before we go there, let’s first explain the meaning of the expression “putting lipstick on a pig”.

This is a way of saying that making superficial cosmetic changes to something will not change the fundamental nature of it.  If you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig and not a lady (or something else that ranks higher in the hierarchy of things than a pig).  Therefore putting lipstick on a pig is a rather futile exercise one undertakes in the hopes to fool somebody into not seeing the pig for what it is.

In my experience that saying came up first when I was involved in getting a company ready for sale – there was a lot of figurative lipstick application involved.

But now to the recent notoriety:  it might have started earlier but the example that sticks in my mind is then presidential candidate Barak Obama referring to all the talk of the McCain campaign about change as “putting lipstick on a pig“.  Since Palin had – a short while before – defined the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull in one word: “lipstick” wild claims were made that Obama had called Palin a pig.  It all disintegrated quickly into ugly political maneuvering and the little expression came away bruises and looking ugly.

I still like it, it makes the concept really clear in an amusing, funny way.

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