Trivia

Hard

The Piggy Bank Derives Its Name From?

Nursery Rhymes
Clay
An English Duke
Its Shape
A 14-15 century A.D. terracotta piggy bank.
Gunawan Kartapranata/Wikimedia

Answer: Clay

For such a simple object, the history of the piggy bank and how it became named (and shaped) as such is a curious adventure in the history of not just one, but many cultures. In Western culture, the piggy bank began life in the Middle Ages as a simple jar. Common orange clay, known as “pygg” clay was used to sculpt a variety of household wares like jars, pots, and specifically, an early version of the piggy bank known as a “pygg pot” that people would drop spare coins into.

Over the centuries and thanks to vowel shifts and the evolution of English, the word “pygg” for the cheap clay and “pigge” for the barnyard animal merged and both ended up with the modern and identical pronunciation of “pig”. At some point in the 19th century, English potters started making “pig banks” in the shape of actual pigs as a sort of visual pun. People loved the concept and the simple clay jars that had previously served as coin storage gave way to piggy banks as we now know them.

What’s even more curious about the whole concept of the piggy bank is that across the globe on the island of Java, hundreds of years before the English made pig-shaped banks, Javanese potters were making coin jars in the shape of wild boars. Again, like in English, we can trace the evolution of the piggy bank back to language. Centuries ago, the Javanese word “cèlèngan” meant, literally, “likeness of a wild boar” but was also used to refer to savings (also used as such in modern Indonesian). Just like English potters used a play on words to create something novel, we can only assume that potters on the other side of the world were equally amused by the word play and crafted savings jars shaped like pigs with the same motivation.

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