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This Wikipedia article says that "in a pig's eye" is rhyming slang for "lie", but I'm not convinced. The article also claims "in a pig's bottom" exists as a variant - but I doubt that's ever had any meaningful level of currency, which is another reason I don't much trust the author.

There might be some element of alliteration (also with "Pigs might fly"), but it doesn't seem like the kind of rhyming slang I'm familiar with.

Can anyone either substantiate the Wikipedia article, or give a more convincing etymology?

EDIT: Soddit - the Wikipedia page lacks citations anyway, so I just changed it.

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Sounds like Cockney rhyming slang to me. There's a lot of that with extremely tenuous connections to the original phrases... –  Chris B. Behrens Aug 29 '11 at 19:40
    
Have you looked at its earliest recorded usage? What impression does that give you? –  prash Aug 29 '11 at 19:57
    
@prash: I have the impression dates in Google Books aren't reliable. This one is supposedly 1827, but it's in a piece by Dorothy Parker, whose grandmother probably wasn't even born then. It looks as if z7sg has it correct, that the expression is American, mid/late C19. –  FumbleFingers Aug 30 '11 at 2:21
    
I see what you mean -- I had not noticed scrolled up to see the author. On closer inspection (page 3 or so) I noticed that the date was undecipherable. There was a library stamp that had a legible date, which google did not use. The next few books gave me the impression that this means "in a (stupid) animal's opinion". –  prash Aug 30 '11 at 2:47
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My father used this all the time when i was growing up to mean more of "No way will I allow that". He also liked to say that things were more fun than "Pulling pig ears at the county fair." While granted my experience was limited to a single attempt to understand the expression, I did not find the experience fun, or revealing. The pig just looked at me like i was stupid. –  Chad Aug 30 '11 at 13:53
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The entry for pig in the Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for the phrase, in a pig's eye:

colloq. (chiefly N. Amer. and Austral.). (in a) pig's eye (also ear, arse) : used as a derisive retort expressing emphatic disbelief, rejection, or denial.

The listed uses are:

1847 J. J. Oswandel Notes Mexican War (1885) iii. 163 Mr. Nicholas P. Trist‥is on his way to negotiate with the Mexican government to make peace. How are you peace—peace in a pig's eye.

1876 Oakland (Calif.) Daily Evening Tribune 17 Mar. 3/7 ‘Bought this mare for $16‥’. ‘In a pig's eye you've bought her for $16’.

1951 E. Lambert Twenty Thousand Thieves 322 ‘Pig's arse to that!’ another voice cried. ‘A jack-up—that's the shot.’

1968 W. Garner Deep, Deep Freeze ix. 110 ‘One stops short of probing the private lives of people for whom one has a regard.’ ‘In a pig's ear!’ she said vulgarly. ‘If duty called you'd have a man under the bed on my honeymoon.’

1992 O. S. Card Lost Boys (1993) vi. 154 ‘She must not have any idea of the effect of her words then’‥. ‘In a pig's eye.’

So the first recorded use was in 1847, and by this time the OED says that it was already being used as a "derisive retort". As the phrase is chiefly from North America and Australia, it is highly unlikely that this is Cockney rhyming slang. However, the article does say that "in a pig's arse" is an actual variant. One of the included uses (see 1951, E. Lambert) uses arse instead of eye.

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The entry in phrases.org.uk has more convincing information about the etymology of this phrase:

in a pig's eye - never, highly unlikely
Whether the originator of the saying meant that a poor idea was something to put in a pig's eye or that it would look bad to a pig's eye is a matter of speculation. As an expression of scorn the expression was picked up in 1872 by Petroleum V. Nasby (David Locke) in one of his satirical newspaper columns: 'A poetical cotashun.which.wuz, -- 'Kum wun, kim all, this rock shel fly From its firm base - in a pig's eye.'" From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

David Locke was an American, so the expression likely originated there and is not rhyming slang.

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A pig's eye is obviously a small opening, resembling an anal sphyncter. It is a euphemism of "my arse".

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