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Q: Etymology of "higgly piggly" ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Etymology of "higgly piggly"
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: michellemck-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 30 Oct 2006 15:45 PST
Expires: 29 Nov 2006 15:45 PST
Question ID: 778598
Hi there,

What is the genesis of the phrase "higgly piggly"?  

Subject: Re: Etymology of "higgly piggly"
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 30 Oct 2006 16:49 PST
Higgly-piggly (often spelled "higgledy-piggledy" or "higly-pigly")
first appeared in print (using the spelling "higledi-pigledie") in
1598, in John Florio's "World of Wordes," a dictionary. The exact
history of the term is unknown, but most sources speculate that the
disorderly appearance and behavior of pigs may be related.

One definition of "higgle" is "To buy and fatten up an animal such as
a pig for market." "Higgly-piggly" probably owes its existence to the
resemblance of the word "higgle" to swine-related words such as
"piglet," and the tendency toward reduplication of sounds in slang

"Sound repetition is also illustrated in the many reduplicatves with
which slang is crowded. Reduplicatives involve partial or total
repetition of a single morpheme or word. Examples would be tom tom,
ding-dong, and higgledy-piggledy. Such reduplicatives are
characteristic of slang. Samuel Johnson in his 1755 Dictionary of the
English Language took special note of such 'low', 'vile cant' as the
aforesaid higgledy-piggledy or twittle-twattle. They were, he claimed,
'too gross and vulgar for the delicate'. But such formations were not
new then. Hotchpotch goes back at least to 1292, hurly-burly to 1530,
and higgledy-piggledy to 1598."

Slang Phonology

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Mainly an example of 'vocal gesture', the odd conformation of the word
answering to the thing described: whether founded on 'pig', with some
reference to the disorderly and utterly irregular fashion in which a
herd of these animals huddle together, is uncertain, though examples
show that such an association has often been present to persons using
it. If the collateral 'Higly-pigly' were the original form, the
sequence 'pig, pigly, higly-pigly' would be not unlikely.

1598 Florio, 'Alla rappa', snatchingly, higledi-pigledie, shiftingly, nap and run"

Also from the OED:

"higly-pigly, adv = HIGGLEDY PIGGLEDY
1664 Homer  la Mode (N.), Just as neighbors higly-piglie, Let their
beasts graze, but then can quicklie... spy 'em from ev'ry one's i'th

1598, probably formed from pig and the animal's suggestions of mess and disorder." 

Etymology Online: higgledy-piggledy

The English language loves this kind of repetition. Linguists call
them reduplicative compounds, but they?re also sometimes called
ricochet words or vocal gestures. They?re paired words that differ
either only in a vowel (tittle-tattle, tick-tock, pitter-patter,
mish-mash, shilly-shally) or a consonant (hoity-toity, lovey-dovey,
helter-skelter, argy-bargy, pell-mell, and the infamous nitty-gritty).
There are dozens of them. Many, especially the rhyming ones, seem to
start out in childhood, perhaps because children find them easy to

There was a simpler version recorded at the same time, higly-pigly,
which suggests the second part may be from pig, with the word evolving
through the sequence pig to pigly to higly-pigly, and so to our
elaborated version with the extra syllables inserted to create a
jog-trotting rhythm."

Weird Words: Higgledy-piggledy

"Higgledy Piggledy" took on new life in the 1960s when it became the
name of a verse form that is also known as a "Double Dactyl":

"Double Dactyl
(also known as the Higgledy Piggledy) 

A dactyl is a foot (see under sonnet, above) which consists of a
stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables -- DUM dee dee.
A Double Dactyl is a rhyming poem with two 4-line stanzas, most of
which consist of two dactylic feet. In other words, DUM dee dee DUM
dee dee.

The first line is a nonsense phrase -- very often, higgledy piggledy.
The second line is the subject of the poem. The third line discusses
or describes the subject. The fourth line is shortened -- instead of
going DUM dee dee DUM dee dee, it goes DUM dee dee DUM.

The fifth and the seventh lines have the same meter as the first and
third lines. So does the sixth line, except that the sixth line
consists of one double-dactylic word, such as 'elephantiasis'. And the
last line rhymes with and is shortened like the fourth line."

A Study in Verse Forms: Double Dactyl

My Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: "higgly piggly" OR "higly pigly" OR "higgledy
piggledy" origin OR origins OR etymology

I hope this is helpful! If anything is unclear or incomplete, please
request clarification; I'll be glad to offer further assistance before
you rate my answer.

Best regards,
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