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How rude is it to say :

People eat crabs like a pig.

Maybe it's not rude in plural sense like the above example but when you talk directly to someone?

Also other terms which relate humans to animals, "to eat like a horse" and "to eat like a bird".

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Well, if a sentence includes pig, It is generally rude in somewhere. –  tugberk Jun 17 '11 at 14:06
    
I don't think you would say "The accepted way to eat crabs on Lake Pontchartrain is like a pig," even if it were true. So yes, I would have to say it is indeed rude. –  Peter Shor Jun 17 '11 at 16:40
    
@FumbleFingers: I read an article which has a sentence like "people eat (something) like a pig", that's why I wondered and asked here, plus I didn't force you to answer this question. But honestly, I've never seen a pig and a pig eating, really sorry. –  Gigili Jun 17 '11 at 18:40
    
I was thinking of "to eat like a pig" as to eat something in a greedy way or something, that can be polite. –  Gigili Jun 17 '11 at 18:43
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@Gigli Don't mind him. I thought it was an interesting question (which is of course why I answered it). –  KitFox Jun 17 '11 at 18:47
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Eating like a pig is quite insulting as it implies messiness and poor manners.

The feudal lord ate like a pig, tearing off hunks of meat with his fists, slobbering and licking his fingers, and wiping his face with his sleeve.

You are right though, that when used in a general sense ("People eat crabs like pigs."), it is not particularly offensive.

Eating like a horse (eating a lot) and eating like a bird (eating very little) are not necessarily insulting, since they refer to the quantity rather than the style of eating. This can be nearly complimentary:

My son is growing like a weed because he eats like a horse.

She was a sweet, dainty thing who ate like a bird.

Or fairly insulting:

She's fat because she eats like a horse!

She's skin and bones because she eats like a bird.

"Eating like a horse" can be insulting because of its relationship to gluttony, or complimentary in the sense of having a good appetite. Likewise, "eating like a bird" can be insulting because it can mean that a person is being picky about food, or complimentary in the sense of not being greedy.

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+1 I'd add that eating like a horse is more insulting than eating like a bird - eating a lot is considered to be worse, than eating very little. –  Philoto Jun 17 '11 at 14:05
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ironically (yes, I know), a bird eats much more, relative to its own weight, than a pig, horse or human. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Jun 17 '11 at 14:15
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Note that it is much less rude to say "pig out", and most of these terms are generally not so rude if you are talking about yourself ("I pigged out on candy last night"). –  Kosmonaut Jun 17 '11 at 14:47
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So "People eat crabs like pigs" is just a general statement, and not particularly offensive? I never saw pigs wear a bib, or use claw crackers, finger bowls, and napkins. I must lead a sheltered life. –  FumbleFingers Jun 17 '11 at 18:26
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@Philoto: If anything, I'd say eating like a bird is generally 'well-meant'; it often carries the implication that the speaker cares about the well-being of the person, and thinks they would be better off if they could manage to eat a little more. –  FumbleFingers Jun 17 '11 at 18:29
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I assume you meant how rude is it to use the expression "eat like a pig"? Obviously so long as you're not insulting someone currently in the room with you, it's perhaps a little informal but not particularly rude.

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counterpoint: Your wife eats like a pig, would be considered extremely rude, though she be absent from the room. –  snumpy Jun 17 '11 at 14:24
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-1, rudeness of an expression is measured when addressing someone to their face (as it will eventually be judged when it finds its way to the addressed); otherwise nothings that is said of anyone (behind their backs and for example in the company of their enemies) would not be considered rude. –  Unreason Jun 17 '11 at 14:27
    
I thought that was obvious. Even if the "eat like a pig" phrase didn't refer to anyone in the room or to anyone who's related to anyone in the room or anyone who knows someone in the room or to anyone who once saw that someone on tv somewhere a couple years go, you could still stomp on the man's toes after having said it and come across as rude. Yet my point was another, and if you weren't busy finding counterexamples you'd get my point. –  Neil Jun 17 '11 at 14:31
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@Unreason - In fact so long as you're not using it as an insult, it isn't rude. "My dog eats like a pig." It's informal perhaps, but nobody's going to throw water in your face unless you nickname your wife "dog". –  Neil Jun 17 '11 at 14:34
    
+1 for robust defence! –  FumbleFingers Jun 17 '11 at 18:30
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