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I read this sentence in Charlotte's Web:

That pig is as solid as they come.

Can somebody explain what "they come" means, who does they refer to?

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I don't see why the meaning is not immediately apparent to you. From the shores of Indonesia, to the streets of Shanghai, to the boulevards of Paris - people know the meaning of "solid". e.g., I have a solid offer from the client. This is "as good as gets", they are the best. Today is as hot as it gets in Shanghai - it is among the hottest days of the summer here. –  Blessed Geek Aug 30 '13 at 7:07
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I think it's worth mentioning our sister site for English Language Learners here. –  J.R. Aug 30 '13 at 9:25
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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This meaning of "come" is "to be available, produced, offered, etc" as seen in meaning 8 of this definition

For example

Cars are available in a range of sizes.
  Cars come in a range of sizes.
    That car is as big as they come.

Pigs are available in a range of solidities.
  Pigs come in a range of solidities.
    That pig is as solid as they come.
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"They" refers to pigs, in this case, or whatever it is the person is talking about. The phrase means that the given pig ("that pig") is as good ("as solid") as possible ("as they come").

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So does the "come" mean "could be"? The sentence can be written as "That pig is as solid as pigs could be?" –  leon Aug 30 '13 at 6:11
    
Sure, although I would say "can be." –  Amory Aug 30 '13 at 6:12
    
Thanks, Amory. Very helpful. –  leon Aug 30 '13 at 6:15
    
Solid is in the meaning of "a solid citizen". That pig is as reliable, sensible and upstanding as any reliable, sensible and upstanding pigs I know. –  mplungjan Aug 30 '13 at 8:12
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I think that it's not quite meant to mean "as they can be" but "as are available from wherever they're made" which means they are "as you can get". The difference being that I might complain about the quality of something (which means I think they could be better) but I might be told, "That's as good as they come." Then I could start a company to make better ones and advertise them as "as good as they come" –  Jim Aug 30 '13 at 8:41
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Read: “That pig is as solid as pigs come.”

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Right on. Which you could also read as: "That pig is as solid as a pig can be." –  J.R. Aug 30 '13 at 9:27
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When the author refers to "Solid" pig, he means

characterized by good substantial quality

When we say "as solid as they come", it is akin to "as good as it gets." Literally it would mean that this pig is comparable to best of pigs.This is "as solid as they come",would literally mean this is the best Nature can provide.

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To directly answer the question, the semantic meaning of "they" is the set of all pigs. The meaning of the sentence is that compared against all pigs, Wilbur is as solid as any of them.

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