The expression "to cold pig" something was used by my grandmother to mean throw something away as no longer of use. Has anyone else come across this expression

  • I just searched Google nGrams and he COCA corpus for “cold pigged” (past tense, to avoid false positives the present tense would generate from confusion from the noun) and got no hits. I think this may be at best a regionalism, and at narrowest specific to your grandma. – Dan Bron Nov 22 '17 at 12:38
  • That said, a little more research turned up this quote from Vicky Is A Beauty by Diane Williams (2012): I found I was a bit cold-pigged — drained, not dried entirely, which seems to use the word in a “tired out, exhausted” sense, which seems metaphorically a short jump from your grandma’s “used up, useless” sense. – Dan Bron Nov 22 '17 at 12:41
  • And I also found several references to Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (c. 1910), which has this definition: to cold-pig: to awaken a sleeper by application of cold water*. This sense seems very distinct from your grandma’s usage. Also Tylney Hall by Thomas Hood (1834) uses the phrase in a similar way. – Dan Bron Nov 22 '17 at 12:49
  • Yes, same meaning also from the following source: To Cold Pig: To give cold pig is a punishment inflicted on sluggards who lie too long in bed: it consists in pulling off all the bed clothes from them, and throwing cold water upon them. Definition taken from The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, originally by Francis Grose. and here: books.google.it/… – Hachi Nov 22 '17 at 13:15
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    Pigs easily get over-heated due to stress or temperature due to the fact they have no sweat glands in their snouts. So chucking water over them becomes necessary. heatstress.info/HeatStressExplained/… – Nigel J Nov 22 '17 at 14:27

The meaning that sponsored your grandmother's use is noted for 'cold pig' as a "technical term" among merchants in Manchester in the first decades of the 1800s. This appears in the 1833 Gimcrackiana, or, Fugitive Pieces on Manchester Men and Manners Ten Years Ago:

A technical term for goods returned, as being damaged or disapproved.

The note pertains to these lines of verse:

And, oh! may no cold pig, unwelcome sight,
Nor return'd wrappers e'er the sense affright!

In keeping with the season, I also reproduce here the vignette epigraph from the title page of that volume, along with its ascription:

The hallowed season and the joyful time
In which I used to greet you all with rhyme,
Is now return'd.

Oxford Sausage

Without belaboring the point, I observe that the work is dedicated "To the thrifty sons of trade, 'Manchester Men,' and the public".

A slightly different mercantile sense is recorded in Wright's 1898 English Dialect Dictionary:

goods remaining on hand unsold or returned.

Further corroboration from the early 19th century is in the 1823 Slang. A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, ...:

Pig...'Cold pig;' goods returned upon a tradesmen's hands instead of money, is an unsavoury thing, and so is cold pig.

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Are you or your grandmother from Australia or New Zealand?

Green's Dictionary of Slang provides a few senses of cold pig, but the one that seems most similar to the meaning expressed in the question is noted as possibly derived from Tailor's jargon, and specific to Australia or New Zealand.

cold pigging (n.) [? tailors’ j. cold pig: a suit that has been ordered but not paid for or collected; such garments, possibly after alteration, would be sold off at a reduced price]

(Aus./N.Z.) hawking goods from door to door.

This sense, which dates back to 1900 and has attestations as recent as 2003, is distinct from a separate meaning referring to pouring cold water on someone or tearing off their bed sheets, as mentioned in a comment by Dan Bron, which derives from nautical slang:

nautical jargon cold norwester, a bucket of seawater poured over a new recruit as an initiation ceremony

So if you or your grandmother are from Australia, the tailors' jargon meaning adopted as Australian slang seems like a more likely explanation of the phrase than the other meaning.

However, the definition provided in this context still does not fit with exact precision, so if your grandmother has no connections with Australian lingo, the meaning could have deviated from one of the other slang senses into a narrower term confined to one region or subculture.

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The term 'Cold Pig' is used in the John Lewis Partnership to this day, referring to a hand-written price ticket for an item of furniture that has been reduced in price because it is an ex-display item which is upholstered in a fabric that the customer can choose for themselves. An ex-display item like this needs a hand-typed ticket because of the huge choice of fabrics that it may be covered in. I was told the term 'Cold Pig' ticket means a bespoke item that has been used for display purposes and is being sold off.

Cold Pig ticket order form

Here is a screenshot of the ticket system form you have to select from. The Cold Pig ticket is also used for fabric remnants, and ex-display lengths used for window or internal displays etc.
This sounds like our use of this term is derived from the Tailoring term for a bespoke suit no longer needed by the customer perhaps.

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I purchased some drapes which were "cold pigs". They were made to measure drapes and a deposit was made by the person ordering them. However, they did not make a final payment so these then became "cold pigs". A great way to get a bargain.

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