A pig in a poke

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Picture credit: Suzanne Tucker

Should you be interested in investments to the point that you  start reading books about them, don’t be surprised to find the term ‘a pig in a poke’.

When you see this idiom, you could think that the author is referring to something that occurred that was not quite to his liking or something that did not quite measure up to his expectations.

And you would be right.

A pig in a poke has historic significance. The idiom dates back to 1530 believed to be first used in London as valuable advice to honourable traders. The full phrase “don’t buy a pig in a poke” means that you should check out your purchases.

Bring it into the 21st century – think animal auction. How can you be sure you’re buying a pig if the farmer has packed his animal into a bag or sack (poke – poque from the French meaning bag). The folklore of the time was to warn the buyer off making a grave mistake such as buying a cat, once the true contents of the sack were revealed (Letting the cat out of the bag – so to speak). The Latin, ‘caveat emptor’ buyer beware, also applies.

I love this idiom for a few reasons – its alliterative rhyme, its fun phrasing, and its visual depiction.

It brings to mind the frenzy around Bitcoin. Many investors might have pulled in great hauls of cash to buy Bitcoin only to find that what they had actually bought was in fact a pig in a poke.

Cambridge dictionary defines pig in a poke as something that you buy or accept without first seeing it or finding out if it is good.

A second-hand car is great example of this, as are online promotions, buying properties off-plan and absolutely anything and everything that sounds ‘too good to be true’.

Watch out for year-end sales and whatever you do, don’t buy a pig in a poke!

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