Posted by James Briggs on December 13, 2003
In Reply to: Pig's ear posted by Ward on December 13, 2003
: : The phrase finder says that pig's ear means beer (a cockney rhyming slang). But, I have heard of making a pig's ear of something, meaning to make a bad job of something. Where does this come from?
: ::: The expression I'm used to is "you can't make a silk purse out of a pigs ear" -- suggesting that some improvement projects of different kinds are doomed to failure. I've heard it used when someone has introduced a new friend and a critic points to a chequred past on the part of that individual and essentially says --- 'the cat doesn't change his spots'.
: Some years ago, a group of scientists who had more money than brains set out to convert the proteins and chemicals in a sows ear into a silky purse. They spent a great deal and were educated to the truth of this expression.
Joe, you're right. A 'pigs ear' is a mess, at least in the UK. I have never found the origin, although I suspect rhyming slang. 'Pig's ear' is also defined as a beer, but I don't think the two phrases have a common origin. The 'mess' variety is quoted in the Dictionary of Slang as '1940s+', the 'beer' variety as 19C and is rhyming slang from 'ear' - just the reverse of the above suggested background.
See also: Pig's ear - meaning and origin.