Thursday, September 11, 2008

Library's New Database Explains Lipstick on a Pig

BHPL has just launched a new database, Visual Thesaurus. Type in a word and up pops a "cloud" of related words and definitions. Click on a shortcut to hear the word pronounced. Click on the menu to translate words into other languages. There is also a newsletter attached with articles about language, a word of the day, a crossword puzzle and other linguistic oddities that would appeal to fans of Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves and similar books about grammar and language.
Today's Visual Thesaurus News features an article, Of Pigs and Silk and Lipstick by Ben Zimmer which traces the evolution of the phrase from the 16th century to the present day "kerfuffle" as he calls it. He writes,
"I was surprised to see how far back similar piggish proverbs go. Everybody knows "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," suggesting that something without inherent value can't be transformed into something valuable. That saying has been traced back to 1579,..."
Eventually sayings about dressing up pigs in silk clothes evolved into putting lipstick on pigs and the rest is history.
Please try our new database which can be accessed from our homepage through the "Remote Databases" link.
Speaking of databases, I decided to put the phrase "lipstick on a pig" into BHPL's databases and see how many times it turned up in the thousands of periodicals and newspapers indexed in them. The results varied. In EBSCO Masterfile Premier, the phrase turned up 23 hits over the last few years.EBSCO turned up 900 hits in all it's databases combined. You can use JerseyClicks to try this experiment. It will search for a phrase in thousands of articles stored in the databases that make up JerseyClicks. For Gale Custom Newspapers, I got 50 hits. I thought there would be more, but I think the databases do not search phrases as well as they do boolean searches so that throws the results off.
Putting the phrase into the BHPL catalog comes up with Torie Clarke's 2006 book, Lipstick on a Pig which has been getting a lot of free publicity lately.

PS: Visual Thesaurus defines a kerfuffle as a hoo-hah or to-do or hurly-burly or disturbance...

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