22

I’m wondering

  1. how widespread geographically and in time was the usage of calling a paper “face book” (list of 1st year college students with photos, hometown & dorm room) a “pig book”, and
  2. what the word “pig” was understood to refer to.

At Brown University (incoming class of 1978) it was called a pig book, and I don’t remember another term ever used for it.  I long thought the word “pig” was understood to refer in a derogatory way to the young men who would look in the book to find women, not to those pictured, as some have suggested online.  Looking recently on the Internet I see the term was used for college photo books prior to the feminist use of the word “pig” to describe a sexist man, so I think I am mistaken.  A recent glossary from Alma College in Michigan mentions the phrase, and says “PIG” is an acronym for “personal identification guide”, but I’m a little skeptical, as there is a tendency for acronyms given as false etymologies.

9
  • I assume that the "pig" (the animal that is dirty, lazy and greedy) is related to its use in "pig-Latin", i.e. poorly spoken and badly composed Latin, in which the noun "pig" indicates a poor/inferior quality. (Or, perhaps, from "pigin"?)
    – Greybeard
    Sep 27 at 10:13
  • A "pig book" is an actual thing. (It's ........ a book of pig photos.) Note that this is explained in @Xerxes answer. It seems very obvious it's just a play on that.
    – Fattie
    Sep 27 at 16:08
  • 1
    @PatrickM, yearbooks are normally published at the end of the academic year, to serve as mementos; the booklets that this question is about are published at the beginning of the academic year, to facilitate various activities in the course of it.
    – jsw29
    Sep 28 at 16:13
  • 1
    I had never heard the term "pig book" before. My university - predating Facebook - had a similar book. If I recall correctly we called it our Face Book. I imagine that today's university students do not have anything similar. What would be the point?
    – emory
    Sep 28 at 20:37
  • 1
    I am in awe of this group! I expected to get a few dribbles within a few years. Instead, a mighty cascade of research. Thanks Sven, Justin and others for your amazing research (dare I say)... so far Sep 29 at 19:40
22

The only slang dictionary I've found that includes an entry for "pig book" is Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, The New Partridge Dictionary of Lang and Unconventional English (2006), and its coverage is pretty skimpy:

pig book noun a student directory with photographs of each student | US, 1969 | —Current Slang p. 17, Spring 1971

Searches of the Google Books and Elephind book and newspaper databases yield the following instances of pig book from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the earliest one being from 1964. I have grouped these instances by institution and chronologically, so the universities appear in the order in which published reference is first made to the term pig book in connection with them.

------

Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)

The earliest match for this school is from 1964 and is a discovery of ace researcher and English Language & Usage contributor DjinTonic. From what appears to be a review of the social scene at Cornell during the 1963–1964 academic year, in The Cornellian (1964), Cornell's yearbook [combined snippets]:

The human touch comes largely from miscellaneous social fragments. There was the reviled and reviling "pig book" of our class, with a certain scandalous picture of a torso. [Harry] Belafonte got laryngitis and [Johnny] Mathis finked out; and big weekends continued their decline. But we heard Ray Charles, the Limelighters, the Weavers, Odetta, Joan Baez, Carlos Montoya, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, as well as [Eugene] Ormandy, [George] Szell, [David] Oistrakh, and [Isaac] Stern.

Also, from "The 1968 Cornell Summer Work-scholarship Program" (1968):

He looked me up in the Pigbook, and told me he had a daughter working in Mann State Hospital.

He asked numerous questions, trying to feel me out. He wouldn't look into my face. He asked about my family, where I worked previously, ...

From an advertisement for Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity in the [Ithaca, New York] Cornell Daily Sun (February 26, 1971):

Cornell men and women—serve the university community through APO ... '75 Pig Book

From The Cornellian (1983) [combined snippets]:

The Gamma Chapter of Alpha Phi Omega was established at Cornell in 1927 based on the Scouting principles of leadership, friendship, and service to the Cornell campus and the Ithaca community. One of our most important campus activities is Cornell Campus Chest, a fund-raising drive, which includes activities such as Ugly Man on Campus and Miles of Pennies. Proceeds from the drive go to several campus and community organizations. Other campus services include publication of the Freshman Register (Pigbook), coordination of the annual Blood Drive, and distribution of soda and candy at cafeteria.

And from Trevor Connor, Get a Clue: The "Real" Guide to Cornell and Ithaca 1993–1994 (1994), in a glossary of terms used at Cornell:

Pigbook—the Freshman directory

------

Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio)

From 'Pig Book' Gets Subsidy," in the [Cleveland, Ohio] Reserve Tribune (March 3, 1966), the student newspaper of Case Western Reserve University :

'Pig Book' gets subsidy

Freshman Class Directory, traditionally published through the joint efforts of the Inter-Fraternity Council and Mather Gov, will additionally subsidized this year by the Adelbert Student Council.

From a classified ad published in the *[Cleveland, Ohio] Observer(November 7, 1969), also a student newspaper of Case Western Reserve University:

WANTED: Copy of sophomore pig book. Will pay up to $1 for it. Ideal opportunity for students intending to transfer or other with no special attachments to such items. Contact Bill, 220 Cutler House, ext. 3160.

Sixteen additional references to "the Pig Book" appear in issues of the Observer and its successor the Case Tech in 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974.

------

American University (Washington, D.C.)

From a letter to the editor of the [Washington D.C.] American Eagle (October 2, 1970), the student newspaper of American University:

The Pig Book

To the editor"

Congratulations! I have just seen a copy of the 1969 New Student Photo Directory and found it two months late, of poor quality and above all abounding with errors. I find it hard to believe that you even took the time to print it at all its usefulness is now almost nonexistent.

From "Americana" in the same newspaper (October 2, 1970):

Handbook (Pigbook) Anyone desiring this year's student handbook may pick one up in Room 200 MGC.

Ans a week later (October 9, 1970) in the same column in the same newspaper:

Frosh Pigbook Due to a fire at the printing plant, "The Freshmen Pictorial Register," alias "The pigbook" will be delayed two or three weeks. Mike Passet of the RHA hopes to have them distributed individually in the dorms.

------

Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

From "Pie Throwers Accept Contracts on Students," in the [Lancaster, Pennsylvania] F&M College Reporter (March 1, 1977), the student newspaper at Franklin and Marshall College:

As I understand now, for a mere $3.50, one of the members of the pie-throwing organization would hurl a whipped cream pie "right between the eyes" of any F and M student you desire. And to make sure you got your money's worth, the members would sacrifice many hours of their precious study time to covertly plan their method of cream-ation. I imagine they got really excited when offered a contract to knock off a pre-med or pre-law. Even a woman would not be spared, unless, of course, one of the members fell madly in love with her picture in the pig-book.

From "Public Relations Office Projects College's Image," in the [Lancaster, Pennsylvania] F&M College Reporter (February 19, 1980):

One of the most important freshman possessions, the Novice's Guide to Fumming (alias "pig book") , also originates in the "Old Main propaganda center."

Seven subsequent references to pig book appear in this newspaper in 1981 and 1982.

------

Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)

From "A Frosh Impression," in the [Gettysburg, Pennsylvania] Weekly Gettysburgian (September 13, 1988):

They have scribbled their names on white Tshirts. They have been divided into teams to share a balloon. Their names and faces can be found in something called a "PIG book." They are not allowed in fraternities, and they still don't know how to use the library. Yes, the freshman class of 1992 is here.

------

Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts)

According to George Colt, November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide (2006) the expression was also used at Tufts University near Boston at some unspecified earlier date:

On a September evening not long after she had arrived at her freshman year at Tufts University in Medford Massachusetts, Merryl Maleska lay on a bed in her dorm room, flipping through the “pigbook,” a thin yellow volume containing pictures of everyone in her class.


A different (and more recent) meaning of 'pig book'

In more recent years (since 1992, by my math), "Pig Book" has been the name of an annual report on supposedly wasteful government spending in the US published by a group closely aligned with the Republican Party that calls itself Citizens Against Government Waste; the usage in this case is a play on the term pork, which, as applied to government spending, refers to funding of projects that are popular in their sponsors' home districts but are unnecessary, fiscally unsound, or otherwise dubious as a matter of policy.


A different (and older) meaning of 'pig book'

Decades earlier, an instance of pig book appears in William Crealock, Vagabonding Under Sail (1951) [combined snippets]:

We had no visitors' book of the ordinary kind on board Content; somehow we felt that it was not very appropriate. Instead we had our 'elephant book;' in this our friends had to draw an elephant while keeping their eyes closed. The results were wonderful, no doubt of deep psychological significance , and usually threw our guests into mild hysterics; so much better than a bald signature and the numbing impact of that awful column headed 'Remarks.'The idea was not our own but came from our friends on the Arthur Rogers who had their 'pig book.'

But an item titled "A Pig-Book" in the [Friday Harbor, Washington] San Juan Islander (November 9, 1907) indicates that this type of "pig book" is goes back at least to the first decade of the twentieth century:

If you would like to have a perfect treasure-house of amusement to show to your friends, get up a "pig-book." But what In the world is a pig-book? Get a book made up of forty or fifty pages of blank paper, and then ask forty or fifty different persons each to draw, with his or her eyes shut, a picture of a pig on one of the pages. The amateur artist will probably succeed pretty well until he comes to putting on the pig's tail; that appendage is sometimes drawn in the most impossible place, and the result is very amusing. You have no conception of the fun you may have out of a "pig-book" until you get one. Try it.


Conclusions

The earliest confirmed match that I'm aware of for pig book in the sense of "photo directory of (usually new) students at a college or university" is from 1964, in The Cornellian, the yearbook of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Other instances of the term pop up in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in Ohio, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. I didn't find any instances of the term from these three decades west of Cleveland or south of Washington DC, suggesting that the term was regional, not national, during that period (and may still be regional today).

None of the sources that I checked hazarded an opinion about why or how the directories acquired the slang name pig book. The simplest explanation might be that pig book evolved in stages, from picture book to pic book to pig book. I have no evidence that this is what happened, however.

The editors of the 1964 Cornellian yearbook characterize the photo directory of students—presumably intended to help students learn the names of others on campus—as "reviled and reviling" immediately before referring to it (with quotation marks) as "pig book." This certainly strengthens the case for interpreting pig book as a pejorative term, and not merely a jokey one, from an early date.

Although the term may have caught on in part because of intended or unintended connotations of pig as an insulting description of the people whose pictures appeared in the directory or as a comment on the sexism of some users of the directory, neither of these possible explanations of the term's origin seems overwhelmingy likely to me. One over-the-top reference to "the Pig Book" appears in Steven Crist & George Meyer, The Harvard Lampoon Big Book of College Life (1978), in which the narrator talks about using the directory as a way to identify prospective love interests:

Glancing through Freshman Directory (which in a wit fit I had dubbed the Pig Book), I spotted a girl who looked like Russ Meyer's bath toy.

But this narrator's other adventures in the same article (which I had to reconstruct piece by piece as a set of adjacent snippet views) suggest that he is a ludicrously self-aggrandizing figure and not to be taken as the suave masher he imagines himself to be.

Likewise, I found no mention of the phrase "personal identification guide" in any of the student newspapers from the 1960, 1970s, and 1980s that show up above as sources of early instances of the slang term.

11
  • 4
    Intuitively, pig as slang for ugly girl seems the most likely. In the absence of a conclusive source, maybe the best we can hope for is to show pig was widely used to refer to female students on campuses at the time.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 27 at 10:32
  • 1
    Double-checking Google Books, I found this 1964 example.
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 27 at 13:41
  • 1
    @Michael Seifert If I were to posit a backronym, it would be 'Photo Identification Guide', but as per my answer, the term "pig" for a freshman apparently goes back long before photography. Sep 28 at 1:54
  • 2
    I'm not so sure of the depth of pejoration per se. This is a book of photos of students in their late teens - that combination of the worst time for cosmetic appearance and having the greatest interest in the cosmetic appearance of others. I'm imagining b&w head shots with 100% exposure - those photographs would be reviling (of their subjects) and the book itself would be reviled individually, yet in common, by most of the students for those reasons.
    – mcalex
    Sep 28 at 19:03
  • 2
    The Cornell "Freshman Register" was published 1953–2004, and 1956, the student daily was already editorializing against "The manner in which the Register is used, and over-used, in sorting the pulchritudinous from the not-so-pretty freshman women…." Given how Cornell's coeds were openly scorned until World War II, and often deemed lacking in appearance by their male cohorts for decades thereafter, and that the Register's use for making judgments about appearances was established by the mid-1950s, "pig" as a reference to the appearance of frosh women seems clear to this Cornellian.
    – choster
    Sep 28 at 21:44
21

Here is a lead, from 35 Slang Terms from the Victorian Era That Are Real Humdingers at https://dustyoldthing.com/35-victorian-slang-terms/

Keep a pig: a college term meaning to let a room to a freshman (new students were often called pigs)

Here is a similar reference to the term

Keep a Pig: An Oxford University phrase, which means to have a lodger. A man whose rooms contain two bedchambers has sometimes, when his college is full, to allow the use of one of them to a freshman, who is called under these circumstances a pig. The original occupier is then said to “keep a pig.”

from https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/knowledge-of-men/manly-slang-from-the-19th-century/

Here is another interesting definition of pig that seems to fit:

Pigs (Trin. Col., Cambridge, 19 cent.). Name given by the men of Trinity to their neighbours of St John's.

https://archive.org/details/passingenglishof00wareuoft/page/196/mode/1up page 196

Conjecturally, it could have originated as a reference to a book of photos of freshmen college students in general.

ADDENDUM

As I have mentioned in my comments elsewhere, it should not be surprising that the first references to a 'pig book' being a book of photos of freshmen was in the early 60's. It was not until 1957, and the invention of the Vanguard Offset Printing Press, that producing such a book was economically viable. One would, therefore, not expect a reference to such a book before it's first production.

Secondly, there would not be a necessity for such a book to be published, before the explosion of undergrad enrolment in the 60's. The freshman class size would be such that they would not need a 'directory' to identify them. However, after the explosion of undergrad enrollment in the '90s and after, producing and distribution of such a book would once again become uneconomical, with first year enrolment being in the thousands.

Thirdly, it must be remembered that in the 50's and early 60's, the majority of University students would have been males. Any reference to the necessity to print a directory to identify potential female freshmen would be moot. There would be very few of them. Such a book would serve no purpose. Thus any reference to the more contemporary use of 'pigs' as a derogatory term towards females or female-seeking males would be historically inappropriate. I posit the initial purpose of such a book would be to identify freshmen, without distinction of them being male or female, in an exponentially increasing student body.

It seems much more likely that the historical association of 'pigs' to a 'freshman' seems more likely, as a 'pig book' being 'a book of photos of freshmen'.

10
  • 2
    I think this should be the accepted answer. This use of the word pig for freshman pre-dates all the references given by the answer of Sven Yargs. Sep 28 at 9:07
  • 1
    This is a very interesting observation, but how does Oxford slang make the jump to Case Western? It also leaves about a 70-year gap between this usage and the pigbook.
    – Xerxes
    Sep 28 at 13:42
  • 2
    @Xerxes I think one would be greatly remiss if one did not acknowledge the tremendous influence English Universities had on American Universities in the 18, 19th centuries. I posit that most of the initial professors at American Universities were from England. They would have brought their slang with them. The original American universities were extremely regimented and British in approach. Sep 28 at 14:26
  • 1
    Recall that the term 'pig book' for a book of pictures of freshmen could never be used until photography and the ability to mass publish photographs became common and cheap. I would not expect the term to be used for an inexpensive book of photographs much before the 1960's, for sure, when the invention of the Vanguard Web Offset Press made cheap newsprint publishing of photos possible. Sep 28 at 14:43
  • 1
    @JustinThymetheSecond Unfortunately, for this theory, you need to explain how English universities influenced the undergraduates, as I doubt it was the professors dubbing this publication a "pigbook".
    – Xerxes
    Sep 29 at 14:08
7

Speculation, as I've not found text evidence of this link, but I think you've overlooked the obvious. Similar to a "herdbook" (cattle), "studbook" (horses) or "flockbook" (sheep), a "pigbook" is nothing more or less than a book full of pictures of pigs. See, for example, this modern version: A very handsome pig

Some wit noted the similarity between this agricultural publication and the student directory and applied it.

1
  • 1
    You are probably very close. As per my answer, the term 'pig' for a college freshman goes well back, to at least the 18th century. in England. Therefore a book of pictures of college freshmen would be a 'Pig Book". Sep 28 at 1:59
1

After I was issued "1985 Class Directory" upon entering Duke University in 1981, fellow students told me that the publication's nickname was the "pig book" and that this name derived from "pic book", i.e., "picture book". I was told that it was valued by sophomore, junior, and senior men who wanted to check out the new women on campus.

2
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Sep 28 at 0:37
  • A problem is that this term by 1985 was about 20 year old. At 4 years/generation, your account is at least 5 "generations" old; the students are likely to be making stuff up as to the actual origin of the term. Sep 28 at 20:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.