Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

It’s A Bed Pig!

Bed Pig

If you guessed yesterday’s What Is It? was a foot warmer, a hot water bottle, or a bed warmer you were right!

In days gone by the item was commonly called a bed pig and was used to warm beds on cold winter nights.

While googling around for information on my newly acquired bed pig I found an old broadside which tells a rather humorous story about a bed pig.

I found the broadside on a really cool website sponsored by the National Library of Scotland: The Word on the Street. The website has over 1800 Broadsides, which according to their home page, “lets you see for yourself what ‘the word on the street’ was in Scotland between 1650 and 1910.”

The title of the broadside which mentions the bed pig story-is Scotch. Read the short commentary given by the website below-then you can read the broadside:

As suggested by the word ‘Scotch’ in the title, this broadside is a light-hearted attack on the Scots language by an English writer who considers himself superior, simply because he speaks ‘proper’ English. After providing his audience with a list of Scots words, he tells of a humorous escapade that occurred when an English lady was touring in Scotland. On retiring to bed, Lady Delacour’s servant advised her that, to stay warm, she should sleep with a ‘pig’ in her bed. As ‘pig’ is a Scots word for ‘hot water bottle’, a series of delicate – and amusing – misunderstandings arise from this awkward situation.


Copies can always be had at 80 London Street.

They speak in riddles north beyond the Tweed,
The plain, pure English they can deftly read;
Yet when without the book they come to speak,
Their lingo is half English and half Greek.

Their jaws are CHAFTS; their hands when closed are NEIVES;
Their bread’s not cut in slices, but in SHEIVES;
Their armpits are their OXTERS; palms are LUIFS;
Their lads are CALLANTS, and their women KIMMERS;
Good lasses DENTY Queans, and bad ones LIMMERS;
They THOLE when they endure, SCART when they scratch;
And when they give a sample, it’s a SWATCH.
Scolding is FLYTIN’, and a long palaver
Is nothing but a BLETHER or a HAVER.
This room they call the BUT and that the BEN,
And what they do not know they DINNA KEN.
On keen cold days they say the wind BLAWS SNELL,
And when they wipe their nose they DICHT their BYKE.
And they have words that Johnson could not spell,
As im-phm, which means: anything you like,
While some, though purely English, and well known,
Have yet a Scottish meaning of their own:
To PRIG’S to plead, beat down a thing in cost;
To COFF’S to purchase, and a cough’s a HOST;
To CRACK is to converse; the LIFT’S the sky;
And BAIRNS are said to GREET when children cry.
When lost, folks never ask the way they want?
They SPEIR the GATE; and when they yawn they GAUNT.
Beetle with them’s a CLOCK; a flame’s a LOWE;
Their straw is STRAE; chaff, CAUFF; and hollow, HOWE.
A PICKLE means a few; MUCKLE is big;
And a piece of crockery ware is called a PIG.

Speaking of pigs? when Lady Delacour
Was on her celebrated Scottish tour,
One night she made her quarters at the “Crown”
The head inn of a well-known country town.
The chambermaid, on lighting her to bed,
Before withdrawing, curtsied low, and said,

“This nicht is cauld, my leddie, wad ye please
To take a pig i’ the bed to warm your taes?”

“A pig in bed to tease!” What’s that you say?
You are impertinent away, away!”

“Me impudent! no, mem- I mean nae harm,
But Just the greybeard pig to keep ye warm,”

“Insolent hussy, to confront me so!
This very instant shall your mistress know,
The bell? There’s none of course? go, send her here.”

“My mistress, mem, I dinna need to fear:
In sooth, it was hersel’ that hade me speir.
Nae insult mem; we thocht ye wad be gled,
On this cauld nicht, to hae a pig i’ the bed.”

“Stay, girl; your words are strangely out of place,
And yet I see no insult in your face.

Is it a custom in your country, then,
For ladies to have pigs in bed with them!”

“Oh, quite a custom wi’ the gentles, mem;
Wi’ gentle ladies, ay, and gentle men;
And, truth! if single, they would sairly miss
Their het pig on a cauldriff nicht like this.”

“I’ve seen strange countries, but this surely beats
Their rudest makeshift for a warming pan.
Suppose, my girl, I should adopt your plan,
You would not put the pig between the sheets!”
“Surely, my leddy, and nae itherwhere;
Please, mem, ye’ll find it dae the maist guid there.”

“Fie, Fie! ‘twould dirty them, and if I kept
In fear of that, you know I should not sleep.”
“Ye’ll sleep far better, mem. Take my advice;
The nicht blaws snell the sheets are cauld as ice;
I’ll fetch you up a fine warm cosy pig;
I’ll mak’ ye sae comfortable and trig,
Wi’ coortains, blankets, every kind o’ hap,
And warrant you to sleep as sound’s a tap.
As for the fylin’ o’ the sheets dear me,
The pig’s as clean outside as pig can be.
A weel-closed mooth’s enough for ither folk,
But if you like, I’ll put it in a poke.”

“But, Effie, that’s your name, I think you said-
Do you, yourself, now take a pig to bed!”

“Eh! na, mem, pigs are only for the great,
Wha lie on feather beds, and sit up late.
Feathers and pigs are no for puir riff-raff:
Me and my neighbour lassie lie on cauff.”

“What’s that? a calf! If I your sense can gather,
Yon and the other lassie sleep together,
Two in a bed, and with the calf between;
That, I suppose, my girl, is what you mean!”
“Na, na, my leddy,’od, ye’re jokin’ noo?
We sleep thegither, that is very true,
But nocht between us; wi’ our claes a’ aff,
Except our sarks, we lie upon the cauff.”

“Well, well, my girl! I am surprised to hear
That we of English habits live so near
Such barbarous customs. Effie, you may go;
As for the pig, I thank you, but no, no
Ha, ha! good-night, excuse me if I laugh?
I’d rather be without both pig and calf.”

On the return of Lady Delacour,
She wrote a book about her northern tour,
Wherein the facts are graphically told,
That Scottish gentlefolks, when nights arc cold,
Take into bed fat pigs to keep them warm;
While common folks, who share their beds in halves-
Denied the richer comforts of the farm-
Can only warm their sheets with lean cheap calves.


A few thoughts:

  • The writer poking fun at the way the Scots talk makes me think of the times someone has asked me to repeat something because of my accent. Years ago when my co-workers and I filled out fishing licenses for folks we had to ask various questions-including how much the person weighed. One day my partner was filling out the license form for a gentleman. When she asked the weight question he said “yes.” Of course she said “weight.” Then he said “yes.” That little exchange went back and forth a few times until in frustration the man said “Hell yes I’m white can’t you see!”
  • Did you recognize any of the words used by the Scots? I noticed ‘swatch’ still used to describe a sample of cloth in my area and blether which reminded me of a recent Appalachian Vocab Test with the word blatherskite.
  • The Deer Hunter said when he spent the night with his Grandma Bonnie she would fill a gallon milk jug with hot water and send it to bed with him.
  • I sleep with a  heating pad-every single night-even in the summer! I turn it off just before I fall asleep. Snuggling down into a warm bed is something I look forward to each day-one of the good things in life for me. Back during the holidays when we spent a few days with Miss Cindy she brought me a hot water bottle after I went to bed because she knew I’d be missing my heating pad-is that sweet or what.


*Source: The Word on the Stree: Broadside Ballad entitled “Scotch Words”.


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  • Reply
    February 1, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    I remember my grandparents calling a bag a poke, and my mom would every now and again.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2013 at 8:08 am

    RB-the bed pig only has one hole-the one with the cork. I pointed that out in the comments-but should have went back and made it clearer in the post too : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    January 27, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Our Great-Grandmother, wee Mabel (nee McKinney) Fry, was Scottish (definitely NOT Scotch), and I can’t recall her ever saying any of these words. She did speak like PA hill folk, but not like a Scottish lady at all.
    As for the “pig” I was confused by the two holes in one side, one with a cork. First, why would it need two holes? Second, if filled with hot water and had two holes, wouldn’t both need corks??
    And for me, I’m an odd bit; I dearly love cold sleek sheets when I slip into bed, even in the cold dead of a NW PA winter. When everyone else is sleeping with flannel sheets, I’ll have my cold sateen please that I warm up all by myself. LOL
    God bless.

    • Reply
      Sue McIntyre
      January 11, 2020 at 9:05 pm

      R. B., I am with you on the cool sheets. Today I even turn off the heat in my bed room. It takes me back to my childhood. We only had a wood heater to heat the front part of the house. At bedtime, we would stand behind the heater and get toasty warm and run to climb in our beds. Daddy would tuck us in. He would pile so many cotton quilts on us we could hardly move. I would often be blessed with a pair of hand me down long handles (thermal underwear). I would wear them under my flannel gown. We would sleep all night, and I can never remember being cold. Moma would get up early and add wood to the coals to heat the house before she started to cook breakfast. Those were the days.

  • Reply
    rick kratzke
    January 25, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Very interesting, I sure wish I had something like that when I was growing up. I lived on a farm that had no heat in the upper part of the house.

  • Reply
    kathryn Magendie
    January 25, 2013 at 8:11 am

    The old Scottish man in my head is pleased with your post *laughing*

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    January 24, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    I can take a poke of wool, spin it on my muckle wheel and knit the resulting yarn into a swatch.

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    In response to Bill Burnett’s
    asking about ice freezing on the
    inside of windows: It seems that
    when we were growing up, winter
    started in mid November, we had
    trouble getting our old ’53 Chevy
    onto the highway for the first
    day of Deer Hunting, around the
    20th of November. Also, we had
    that good ole Spring Water and it
    was gravity fed. It ran all the
    time and splattered unless you
    lined the spiket with the drain.
    Sometimes I saw my mama take a
    big butcher knife and chop the ice and let it slide into the sink
    to melt. We never thought much
    about it and when those biscuits
    and gravy came to the table, the
    kitchen was warmed up too…Ken

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    January 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    My Scottish ancestors (Pentland/Penland) arrived in North America sometime before 1641, but I could understand most of the dialect above.
    I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that no true Scotsman will refer to himself as Scotch or a Scotchman. He will politely inform you that Scotch is a whisky (no “e” in the word in Scotland). He is a Scot, a Scotsman, or is Scottish, but he is not Scotch. The term for many of our Appalachian ancestors whose families were part of a forced migration from Scotland to Northern Ireland in the 1600’s is Scots-Irish, or as the more militant Scots who bristle at ANY association with the Irish prefer, Ulster Scots. Scotch-Irish is an incorrect term, for the same reason above.

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    This was all so funny, even the
    commentors. I have a CD movie that
    I really like. It’s a love story
    starring Patrick Dempsey and a
    Monoghan girl, called “Made of
    Honor”. The story starts out in
    New York and ends up in Ireland.

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Well, one of my two guesses was something like a hot water bottle, so I think I was very close. I just loved the poem and the banter. You have just juggled my funny bone. I think ‘the pig’ might just be better than a pair or two of socks. Great piece!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

    When I was a wee lad at Needmore we would heat a flat iron and wrap it in towels for our foot warmer after sitting in front of the stove and “baking” our feet we would make a mad dash to our beds and slide under numerous quilts which were sometimes so heavy one could only lay flat of your back. I once told my Mom that I knew how a fossil felt since I was pressed into the mattress by so many quilts. My wife and I now have a mattress warmer on our King sized Sleep Number Bed which is great until you forget to turn the warmer down before going to sleep, when this happens you awake and realize how a slice of light bread feels right before being popped out of the toaster. I wonder how many of your readers have awakened to find ice frozen on the inside of the windows which was common in the winters at Needmore.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 24, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I dinna ken there was such a thing as a bed pig but, my wife does hog the covers! I know a lady from the Highlands of Scotland and she was showing me some photos of where she lived there. In one photo were the cows with the long hair and I said, Highland cattle. She said no, those are Heiland coo’s!
    Wonderful post Tipper, I learn something new almost everyday here!!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    January 24, 2013 at 10:37 am

    You know how much I loved this post!
    One of my favorite poems, is
    “The Singin’ Tattie-Bogle” by the famous A. Nony Muss….LOL
    Beyond the Tweed…hmmmm, something familar about that there! LOL
    Me thinks we will need, a pig for sure tomarrow….and a sow, a boar, a hog, the five little dancing piggys…a calf, a cow..
    a hot water bottle, a bed warmer, a heating pad, Grandmas heaviest quilts made frum old woolen shirts and skirts…
    I tell ya, hits going to freeze up around here or as in the flatland South they say “heeahhh”!
    Bring in the Brass Monkey, wrap the outside faucet in blankies…and fill up the jugs…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…The ridges on the bottom of the “bed Pig” were used to put on the floor, or the floor of the old wagon or Model T to stablize it…Not much use in those old feather beds…too soft even for the ridges…I’d love to have one to prop my feet on at night when doing some sittin’ over the board…Gotta go I gotta fill my crock, errrr mug….

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Well, that was great fun. But I still think the stain on the bottom looks less like a girl in boots and more like the south end of a north bound poodle.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 24, 2013 at 10:16 am

    When I was a student at Almond Elementary School in Swain County NC, we also called thing on the other end of our pencils a rubber. The debate was whether the name was for what it was made of or the fact that we rubbed away our mistakes. But that was more that a half century ago.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    January 24, 2013 at 10:04 am

    My grandmother used to heat bricks on the stove or fireplace, put them in canvas bags she had made, and put them under the bed covers at night. My mother would take one in the mornings to put on the school bus floor to keep her feet warm.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 24, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Tipper–I think I can help Ed with his concern about the two openings. The pig drains a lot easier and more rapidly when there are two openings.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 9:43 am

    My friend was born and raised in Scotland and married my hillbilly friend she met while in the armed services. After years of marriage, the mixed accent is something akin to Pig Latin!
    The microwavable bean bags work great as foot warmers on cold winter nights. I’ve always been afraid the hot water bottle would come uncorked during the night. My electric blanket stays on the bed from October till May.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 24, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Great story Tipper, thanks so much! Two words I know. Swatch, I know from sewing. You get a swatch of fabric to see if it will natch your colors.
    The other word is poke. I think I’ve told this story here before but it’s worth a repeat.
    My father’s youngest brother, Van, married while in the Navy. His bride was from Oklahoma, a lovely woman named Ruth. Well, Van brought Ruth home to his mother in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Van got a job working at night and the couple lived with his parents till they could get their own home.
    My grandmother, Dollie, was a hard working country woman. Dollie was working in the garden one day and Ruth was helping, or I should say trying to help her. Ruth knew nothing of gardens. Dollie asked Ruth to go back to the house and get her a poke for something she had picked.
    Ruth obediently went back to the house but had no idea what a poke was. It was midday and Van was sleeping, having worked all night. Not knowing what else to do Ruth woke Van to find out what a poke was. Ruth wanted to look good to her new mother in law so would not admit to her that she didn’t know what a poke was.
    This became a family story, told many times.

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    January 24, 2013 at 9:13 am

    My Granny used to heat up rocks and wrap them in towels and put them in my Daddy and Aunt’s beds to help keep them warm at night.

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Ed-Im sorry I should have pointed out it only has one opening-the one with the cork.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 24, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Tipper–As my answer yesterday indicated, I’ve spent a good bit of time in Scotland, and I’ll get a bit windy (imagine that!) and share two experiences connected with the way they talk.
    One day in the heart of Edinburgh I was looking for a bookstore and asked an elderly gentleman on the street if he knew where it was. I don’t think he understood much fi any of what I said, and I certainly didn’t understand him. Finally I pointed to the name of the place in a guidebook I had. He burst out laughing and pointed down the street. The place was within sight. We were separated, communication-wise, by a common language (Mind you, as Don hints, I’m sure my way of talking was at least 50 percent of the problem).
    The second fond memory involves bus rides. Every day I rode a bus to and from the little village of Musselburgh, where we were living for the months I held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, to to university. Invariably, when I got off in late afternoon, there would be a bunch of women on the bus returning from shopping or a day in the city. When I got off at my stop, some of them (and it wasn’t the same women but many different ones) would say “Ta, Jimmy.” I thought that was mighty nice but wondered how on God’s green earth they knew my name. Finally a light dawned with there was another male rider on the bus who got off before I did. They said “Ta, Jimmy” to him as well and I realized “Jimmy” was just a catch-all term for any man. Understanding had been achieved even as my ego was totally deflated.
    Incidentally, while I generally detest cities, I really liked Edinburgh in the summer. Stay there for a few weeks in the winter though, and you’ll understand why alcoholism is a chronic problem in Scotland. It never gets to the point of full daylight.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    January 24, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Reminds of teaching and having a girl from Scotland ask me if I had a “rubber.” I was rather shocked, and asked her what she meant, and then she pointed to the end of her pencil, and said a “rubber.” In Scotland an eraser is a rubber.
    And as far as being misunderstood because of our Appalachian dialect, I was talking to someone from California over the phone and politics came up. I told him that our county mayor was trying to get a wheel tax passed. I pronounce “wheel” as “will.” The Californian said, “Do you mean a death tax?” I said no, a will tax. He said, “Like a tax on your estate?” I said no, like a tax on the “will” on your car, a road tax. He said, “Ohhhh, a wheee-yal tax.” Yeesh!
    It works both ways though. I worked with a guy from Scotland cleaning carpet. A lady had spilt her cuspidor or spit cup on the carpet and proceeded to tell us how that stain had “just sprayed and sprayed.” John looked at me kinda sideways and in a hushed tone said “it what?” And I said the stain just spread and spread.
    If I wasn’t working fast enough for his impatient soul, he would pop his head into the room, and in a great Scottish brogue say, “Are ye makin love to tha room or what?”

  • Reply
    Ben Thayer
    January 24, 2013 at 7:40 am

    More than once I have gone to bed in a crocked condition and awakened to find myself in the presence of a pig. She, upon arising, proved not to be of the ceramic kind.

  • Reply
    Cheryl soehl
    January 24, 2013 at 7:20 am

    When the weather is cold, I fill my hot water bottle for my feet and stay warm all night. It’s easy to reposition to get just the right amount of heat, and much cheaper than leaving the heat on all night.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 24, 2013 at 7:19 am

    But why the skids on the bottom? Unless it is meant to be warmed on a stove top. I still don’t understand why it needs two openings!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 24, 2013 at 7:16 am

    This is just delightful, Tipper. I love to listen to Scottish lilt – even when I canna unnerstan it.
    I’ve taught some classes on pumping systems in England for the last few years. A couple-three years back, a wee Scottish lad (of about 30) spoke up in class and asked a question – or at least I think he did. I tell no lie when I tell you he spoke for a full minute and I understood not one single word.
    After fumbling and mumbling for a few very long seconds, inspiration struck. I looked to the rest of the class and said “What do the rest of you’uns think about that?”
    There were a few grins, and later on, I sat down to talk with this fellow and although he still had a pronounced accent, I could understand him. So it was a fine pull o’ me leg he’d had.
    Favorite Scottish lines by none other than Robert Burns:
    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder fee us
    An foolish notion:
    What airs in dress and gait wad lea’e us,
    An’ ev’n devotion!
    So when are you going to include some recipies for Cock o’ Leekie soup and Tipsy Laird, sweet Mary Jane?

  • Reply
    Sheryl Ormond Paul
    January 24, 2013 at 7:02 am

    fascinating. I guess it is a little “pig” like

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 6:10 am

    I would never have guessed what that thing was. That story about your friend and the fishing licens cracked me up! When we were first married my wife worked at a loan company. One morning this little guy (kinda of a runt) came in for a loan. He had an eye problem. Infact he was a dead ringer for the actor Marty Feldman (you know the one that played Igor in the movie “Young Frankenstein”. He also had trouble speaking plainly. When my wife asked his name she couldn’t understand him and had to ask over and over again. When the manager saw what was going on he took over for her. He had the same problem and this went on and on for some time and the little guy started to get mad. Finally he got right up in the managers face and yelled. I’ll change the name for obvious reasons. He yelled MILTON BERRY [email protected]#[email protected]!!M yE!

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