Friday, September 9, 2011

Apple #546: Piggy Banks

I was in Target the other day and I saw a whole shelf of piggy banks on sale. I wondered, why do we put our money in pigs? Is it because money is associated with greed, which is in turn associated with gluttony, and our best representative of gluttony is the pig?

Time for the Apple Lady to find out.

Piggy banks on sale at Target
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • One site I found suggested that, just as farmers feed piglets all sorts of scraps until they are ready for slaughter, which in turns give the farmer a lot of food, so too we feed our little banks with scraps of money (change) until that builds into a great big nest egg.
  • I've mixed my metaphorical farm animals. But you understand my point.
  • That's a nice little story, but most sources agree, the reason we put our money into ceramic pigs has nothing to do with the animal itself. It is, in fact, another instance of etymology at work. (That's word origins, not bugs.)
  • Long, long ago, back in the Middle Ages when the English that people spoke was very different from the English that we speak today, people made pots and jars and various pottery items from a particular orange clay. Their word for that clay was "pygg."

I post this image with a high degree of skepticism. There is no information about this image apart from the caption you can see on the photo. It was posted on Photobucket by Imaginary Rofler, which sounds like the name of someone into playing practical jokes. But we can at least say this is someone's approximation of what a pygg jar might have looked like once upon a time. Though probably in real life, pygg jars didn't quite look like this. The piggy bank on the right does seem to have come from the National Museum of Indonesia, though.

  • It's thought, by the way, that at that time, the y sound was pronounced like a short u, so that word probably sounded more like "pug."
  • At some point or other, some enterprising person dedicated one of their pygg-clay jars to be a receptacle for coins.
  • Pretty soon, everybody was doing it. Putting their change willy-nilly into their pygg jars, saving money all over the place. Dang kids.
  • Over the centuries, the way people spoke their English changed a lot. But that habit of tossing spare change into a jar did not go away. Thus, though people still kept tossing their spare change into the same receptacle, they started to change the way they pronounced said receptacle. Instead of pronouncing it like pug, pretty soon they were pronouncing it like pig.
  • Eventually, they also changed the way they spelled the word. They cahnged the y to an i and dropped the extra g. I'm also thinking that the phrase "piggy jar" was easier to say than "pig jar." And that -ggy ending looks more like the original "pygg" spelling, too.
  • The word "bank" showed up around the same time that "pygg" did. The word did mean a financial institution, but that meaning was a bit more open-air, if you will. It literally referred to a money-lender's table.
  • It wasn't until around the 1700s that the word "bank" became a verb. So this is just a guess, but I'm thinking that it was probably around the same time that people switched from calling their spare-change jars "pygg jars" to "piggy banks."
  • When piggy banks began to be manufactured on a wider scale, initially there was no hole in the bottom where you could retrieve your cash. If you wanted to get anything back out of the pig, you had to break the thing open.

Uh-oh. Someone raided the piggy bank.
(Photo from Boston Catholic Insider)

  • For a while, piggy banks were pretty much ubiquitous. But people are saying that these days, they're a dying breed, as children are given savings accounts rather than ceramic toys as a place to keep their money, and as inflation has chipped away at the buying power of loose change.
For those of you looking for a whimisical or decorative spare-change jar, here are a few piggy bank options for you:

This is a nice friendly-looking piggy bank.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

Piggy bank from South Africa, with polka-dots.
(Photo from topnotch car rental)

This one looks like it might be made out of wood.
(Photo from Tom in Philly at BartCopE)

These are piggy banks made out of clay with no opening on the bottom, but they're made in the present day. You can buy one for $20. Which I think is kind of funny.
(Photo and banks available from Posie Row)

Sitting-up sailor-like piggy bank, available from Piggy Banks of America. They boast that they have the widest selection of piggy banks in the world, they allow you to choose whether you want a hole with a stopper in the bottom or not, but they don't say how much their piggy banks cost.
(Photo from Piggy Banks of America)

I also find it funny that these piggy banks were marked down.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The Straight Dope, What's the Origin of the Piggy Bank?
Consumer Watch, Insider Reports, Piggy Banks - A Short History
The Corner Stork, The History of the Piggy Bank, Inventors, Piggy Bank
The Great Idea Finder, Did you ever wonder why it's called a piggy bank?
Piggy Bank World, History of the Piggy Bank
Online Etymology Dictionary, bank


  1. I have a clear plastic piggy bank from AmSouth Bank. When I worked there we gave them away, so I took one for myself. I like that it's clear because it's gratifying watching it fill up.

  2. Ooh, yeah, that would be gratifying, as you say. Come to think of it, my grandmother had a clear piggy bank. Hers was glass, though, and it was pretty small. I used to play with it like a toy.

  3. Hm, the bit with etymology is fascinating. It certainly quite interesting to see how the "Piggy" evolved into those piggy banks below. It's kinda cool that you could still be able to put that spare change into something like that.


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