Dancing in the Hog Trough


dance in a hog trough verb phrase 
1956 Hall Coll. Del Rio TN Fifty years ago if a younger sister married first, folks would say the older sister “had to dance in a hog trough.” (Louisa Metcalf)

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Chitter would be the one having to dance in the hog trough at our house, if Chatter got married first. Chitter is a whole two minutes older than Chatter and let me tell you she lords it over Chatter ever chance she gets.


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  • Reply
    Leon Estes
    February 10, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I tell you what. You Mountain Folk have such funny expressions. I had not heard this one, but experienced it with my first wife. We were dating and she said, “Go with me to my cousin’s wedding; she is younger than I. At least I can show her I have a fiancee’!” Oh, it was a terrible situation! My fiancee’ was already 21 and not married yet! Of course, her cousin was younger!

  • Reply
    February 10, 2018 at 7:25 am

    Never heard of it, but if it does happen, just make sure he’s the right one, much more important than see who get’s hitched first. Kinda like the thing of folks betrothing their younguns, sorta weird.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Northeast PA born and raised here… Our youngest brother married before his older brother who danced in the hog trough at his reception… That was around 1988ish up in Benton, Pa… Where does the time go?!??!

  • Reply
    Michael Montgomery
    February 9, 2018 at 6:59 pm


    I am copying below the entry for the phrase from the nearly completed second, much-expanded version of my dictionary, which will be titled DICTIONARY OF SMOKY MOUNTAIN AND SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN ENGLISH. It should be published soon by the University of South Carolina Press. I see that the bold-facing and italics do not transfer, nor can I seem to insert them. Anyhow, the entry has four quotations from Kentucky, one from Tennessee, and two from North Carolina. Perhaps the most interesting is the one dated 1863, which is from a letter written by Phebe Gaultney of Alexander County NC to Jonas Bradshaw during the Civil War. That’s not too far east of Asheville. Actually the entire letter (and the entire collection at Duke University from which it came) is now online at a site a colleague and I have created called PRIVATE VOICES at


    The site has more than two thousand other CW letters from NC, including two collections from Cherokee County (the David Hitt letters deposited in Emory Library and the Stephen Whittaker Letters from the NC State Archives). All of them have been very carefully transcribed and are searchable. You can probably google for them as well.

    It’s not surprising that the phrase goes back 150 years (at least), but is fascinating to read it in a letter from that long ago.

    dance in a/the hog trough (also dance in a pig trough, dance in the pig trough) verb phrase Usually of an older sister: to have a younger sister marry first and thus be compelled to show mock shame.
    1863 Bradshaw CW Letters (Jan 29) (Alexander Co NC) frank has got a girl of his one [= own] now tell Jones that pery will leave him to dance in the troft. 1937 Wilson Folklore SE KY 24 She left her older sister dancin’ in the hog trough. (She married before her older sister [Bell Co KY].) 1956 Hall Coll (Gatlinburg TN) Fifty years ago if a younger sister married first, folks would say the older sister “had to dance in a hog trough.” [1971 AOHP/ALC-137 Ose KYP When Lydia Ann got married, she was younger than Nancy … Lydia Ann married before Nancy did. Nancy was older, and some of them went and packed the hog’s trough in on the porch and made her dance in it.] 1972 Clarke Dance in Trough 68 (ne KY) One or more students in each class have expressed familiarity with the expression, usually as You’ll have to dance in a pig trough as a teasing and humorous remark to an unmarried girl who is approaching the age when she will be considered an “old maid.” Some were specific in applying it to a girl whose younger sister seemed likely to marry first. Two students professed to use the expression themselves to tease a young male who was in danger of losing his girl friend to a rival. More often students have attributed the expression to older members of their families, especially grandparents. 1972 Cooper NC Mt Folklore 90 danced in the pig trough = remained single after an older brother or sister had married. [1982 Slone How We Talked 17 (se KY) When a boy or girl got married, having older brothers or sisters at home still single, the older ones were supposed to dance in the hog trough at the wedding as punishment for letting the younger get married first.]
    [DARE dance in the hog trough v phr chiefly South, Midland]

  • Reply
    February 9, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    For some reason I always thought of Chitter as the oldest, I know they’re Twins but somebody had to come first. Anyway, Chatter ain’t as talkative as Chitter. They’re both Lovely Creatures.

    I ain’t never heard the phrase “Dancin’ in the hog trough” , and we had lots of hogs.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Hogs must have had greater importance in previous eras. I had never heard about dancing in the trough. That is fascinating.

    But I have heard Iowa/Nebraska people say a person with sudden wealth, or celebrating at a fancy restaurant, was “eating high on the hog.”

    I also remember an uncle telling my cousin who was eating with both elbows on the table to get his hands out of the trough.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2018 at 10:02 am

    You know what? Dancing in the Hog Trough for one evening is preferable to a lifetime of it! Of course, marriages rarely last a lifetime any more so that brings up many other questions.
    7. If the younger daughter marries but the marriage fails, then the oldest marries before the she remarries, does she too have to take a turn in the slop?
    2. If the younger sibling marries, divorces then marries again before the eldest, does she have to dance again?
    4. What is there are other older sisters? Is it just the next older one or do they all have to get in there?
    6. What about the hog? Who’s watching him? Pigs will eat people, you know!
    9. Sorry about the numbering! I had an accident when I worked at the sawmill. Had a great doctor though! He sewed my fingers back on and they ever one took. I don’t think he got them back on right though. It causes a few issues, especially with math, but at least I don’t have to try to pick my nose with my thumb.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 9, 2018 at 9:54 am

    “Dancing in the hog trough” is new to me. I don’t recall hearing it relating to a older sister having to dance in the hog trough…What if she didn’t have sisters? Only younger brothers…would the boys have to “chicken-wing” on a fence post? lol
    The statement you made that I have heard but not in years was “she lords it over Chatter every chance she gets.” My grandmother used to use that term…”lords it over”…I don’t hear it much anymore until your post today…
    Thanks Tipper,
    Interesting post as usual…

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 9, 2018 at 8:43 am

    You all got me. Never heard no such. Can’t even recall hearing any variation like dancing in the washtub. What I have heard is people saying, “I’ll dance at your wedding.” And that said by people who didn’t dance.

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    February 9, 2018 at 8:01 am

    Maybe Chitter would dance to the Hog Trough Reel recorded by fiddler Clayton McMichen and His Georgia Wildcats.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 9, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Tip, that’s a new one to me, I’ve never heard of dancing in a hog trough. Wonder what the hog’s supposed to do while some woman is dancing in his trough? I’m also not sure two minutes can really qualify as older, especially in this case since by position Chitter was the one scheduled to be born first!

  • Reply
    a.w. griff
    February 9, 2018 at 7:21 am

    About 10 year ago I told my nephew I would dance at his wedding in a hog trough, Maybe a week before the wedding he told me the hog trough was almost built. He said it with such a straight face that I believed him. He really fooled me.

  • Reply
    Susan Jones
    February 9, 2018 at 7:19 am

    West Tennessee chiming in here. In all my born days, I have never heard of having to “dance in the hog trough.” Too bad I didn’t know that one when I tied the knot before my big sister….darn!!!! Thanks for a great new expression! It’s a fun one! Keep ’em coming and have a great weekend, all!

  • Reply
    Lonnie Baker
    February 9, 2018 at 6:39 am

    I went to a Cajun wedding where the older sibling had to dance in a washtub with a mop, sounds similar. My mom always said that an older sibling had to dance barefoot at the wedding.

  • Reply
    Sheryl PaulI
    February 9, 2018 at 6:20 am

    Gunny, I have heard that phrase used if someone vame into unexpected wealth. She is dancing in the hog trough now.

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