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Slang of the Week: put lipstick on a pig (verb phrase)
to wrap something inferior in an attractive, superficial package to hide its flaws
Arnie’s Used Car Emporium was having financial difficulties until they discovered you could put lipstick on a pig. A new paint job was usually enough to fool customers into buying a lemon.
“But you know when you put lipstick on a pig, at the end of the day, it's still a pig.”
If you’ve been following the US presidential race, you might be surprised to see John McCain’s name after that quote. Barack Obama has criticized this week for using it in a speech in Virginia.
Obama said of McCain’s campaign platform. “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 gonna shake things up in Washington.’”
“That's not change.” he continued, “That's just calling some -- the same thing, something different. But you know, you can -- you know, you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig.”
Obama was then accused of calling McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, a pig. But that doesn’t match the meaning of the term. While his quote didn’t mention Palin, if it had, it would only mean that her appeal to voters made McCain’s unsavory politics more attractive. The term has been widely used by politicians from both parties to talk about bad policies or proposals that have been spun to look better than they are.
McCain ’s use in the quote above, by the way, was a critique of Hillary Clinton’s health care plan. Perhaps if she’d been clever enough to suggest he was calling her a pig, she’d still be in the running.
Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Learn more about the language of politics with Hatchet Jobs and Hardball : The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang by Grant Barrett.