FROM THE LIBRARY OF QUOTES/
A popular metaphorical adage warns individuals not to engage with disreputable critics. Here are two versions:
Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.
Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.
This saying has been credited to a triumvirate of quotation superstars: Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and George Bernard Shaw. Quote Investigator has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.
The adage evolved in a multi-step multi-decade process. Here is a summary of it:
An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776 in a separate article about a variant of the saying: “Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.” In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. “It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated, nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.”
The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.
The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by Quote Investigator appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. “A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently. “My friend,” he said,” I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm,. He said. “What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy…and the pig likes it.”
Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a preexisting item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.
Additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1882 the “Worcester Daily Spy” of Worcester, Massachusetts printed a partial match within an article about a sale of railroad stock. In 1884 a temperance advocate Will J. McConnell was quoted in “The Warren Mail” of Warren, Pennsylvania. “You know, if you wrestle with a hog you will become dirty, no matter whether you or the hog should gain the fall.” In 1896 “The Wichita Daily Eagle” of Wichita, Kansas reported on a financial disagreement during which John Hoenscheidt employed the partial saying. “He was at a hotel in Atchison and although we did not owe him a cent I gave him this money to get rid of him and took his receipt in full, not because I considered that we owed him a cent, but I realized that to quarrel with him would be like wrestling with a hog. The association would be smeared whether it would throw the colonel or whether the colonel would throw it.”
In 1946 Richard P. Calhoon, who was a corporate personnel director published an advice book: “Moving Ahead on Your Job” which included a version of the adage using the verb “wallow” instead of “wrestle”: “Sometimes a man likes to get into an argument first to show that he is as smart as you are. And when you begin refuting one another’s reasons, fussing back and forth, you generally do what a nationally known industrial relations authority warns you against: you wallow in the mud with the pig. He says,” Never wallow in the mud with a pig, because the pig likes it.” That is exactly what he wants, because you are on his home ground. He can think of arguments as well as you can, so where do you come out?”
In May 1947 the short version of the saying from the 1800s was still circulating. The syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler attributed an instance to a union representative, Dave Beck of Seattle.
In January 1948 “The Saturday Evening Post” published the first strong match from Ching as noted previously. In April 1948, a newspaper in Akron, Ohio printed a remark from N. H. Eagle who was the organizational director of the United Rubber Workers. “I shouldn’t bother to reply to their malicious lies. I learned that you can’t wrestle with a pig without getting dirty and the pig likes it.”
In November 1949 the Chicago Daily News Service distributed a story about Ching that included the adage which was attributed to Ching’s grandfather. A year later, October 1950 “Time” magazine printed the instance from Ching, and three years later in 1953 “The Speaker’s Treasury of Stories for All Occasions” by Herbert V. Prochnow credited Ching. In 1982 a sports writer ascribed the homespun wisdom to a race car driver, Cale Yarborough’s advice for living: “Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty but the pig will enjoy it.” In 1994 a Usenet discussion system message attributed the saying to the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw who had died decades earlier in 1950. In 1996 a Usenet message uncertainly attributed the saying to U.S.resident Abraham Lincoln who had died in 1865. “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it!” In 2001 a Usenet discussion system message attributed the saying to the renowned humorist Mark Twain who died in 1910: “Guys, give it up. As Twain said, Never wrestle with a pig – it gets mud all over you and the pig likes it.”
The anonymous adage has evolved over a period of decades. Cyrus Stuart Ching was an important popularizer. The ascriptions to George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, and Abraham Lincoln are unsupported. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/07/08/pig/