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This phrase comes from my dad, who is of Bristolian stock, so it may be highly regional. I've only heard it spoken, and not written down.

He uses it, I believe, when it looks like somebody is straining to accomplish something, and taking a more relaxed approach would be better for all involved. The exchange usually goes something like this:

Dad: You know what happened to the man who forced his pig, don't you?
blank faces and/or groans
Dad: Died.

I think the humour comes from the ambiguity over whether the man or the pig died, and what the pig was forced to do. That ambiguity also covers the fact that this strenuous activity is probably bad for the man AND the pig, no matter what it was.

Have I got the meaning right, and where does this actually come from? My dad doesn't know, but he's sure he didn't make it up. I've also seen the phrase/expression mentioned elsewhere but I've not found any answers as to its meaning and origin.

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  • Can you provide an example in print? I see a news story about a man who forced his pig to bungee jump.
    – DjinTonic
    Nov 11, 2021 at 15:16
  • @DjinTonic I don't think I've ever seen it written down, but I edited in some more details Nov 11, 2021 at 15:19
  • Intriguing! I was expecting some kind of pun from the setup, and the theanswerbank page you linked to suggests one—maybe "forced" is intended to set up an expectation of "force fed," and then the punchline reveals the futility of trying to force a pig to do anything... Nov 11, 2021 at 15:35
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    From One Hand Clapping by Anthony Burgess (1961): (Janet) Give it up for the time being. Don't try forcing it. A man forced his pig and it died. (Howard) Forced it to do what? (Janet) I don't know. That's what they used to say Come on, come and look at the telly... Nov 11, 2021 at 17:11
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    I've never read/heard it, here in the US.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 11, 2021 at 17:39

1 Answer 1

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Examples in Google Books:

It was times like these that I'd decide it was time to visit Nanny. “A man forced his pig and it died,” she'd often say without elaboration, once I'd settle into her musty, lemon sofa beside a bowl of calcified fruit drops. I never knew what she was talking about. Jeff Wells; Anxious Gravity

JANET Give it up for the time being. Don't try forcing it. A man forced his pig and it died.

HOWARD Forced it to do what?

JANET I don't know. That's what they used to say. Anthony Burgess; One Hand Clapping, adapted for the stage by Lucia Cox


The pigs’ stubbornness extends even beyond its own best interests. Obstacles or change be damned. Pigs prefer to move in a straight line with a single-minded purpose that resists deviation. Pigs have their own inertia and an internal frame of reference. Dano; "The stubbornness of pigs"

pigheaded (adj.) Obstinate and stupid

Someone who's extremely stubborn, refusing to change their mind even when it's in their best interest, is pigheaded. It's almost impossible to get a pigheaded person to listen to your advice. vocabulary.com

It appears that the expression intentionally omits what the pig was forced to do: being such a stubborn animal, it doesn't matter. I think the gist of the expression is "don't push it" or "insisting will have consequences" as you suggest.

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  • Intriguing, all these examples use "it," making it clear that it's the pig that died. Maybe the meaning of "force feed" is inherent to the idiom, and there's no double-meaning. Nov 11, 2021 at 15:50
  • @AndyBonner could well be! Nov 11, 2021 at 15:50
  • "Ontario. Canada. Department of Agriculture. Annual Report: 1898/2" (google books) page 31 has 2 illustrations of "dressed" (butchered) pork labeled "Forced pig" along with criticism of the quality (too thick; too fat). they accompany discussion of feeding methods.
    – Yorik
    Nov 11, 2021 at 16:10
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    ( books.google.com/… ) I think the saying is clearly about not forcing the issue as stated in this answer.
    – Yorik
    Nov 11, 2021 at 16:11
  • The Anthony Burgess play quote is particularly valuable
    – Henry
    Nov 12, 2021 at 9:17

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