If you looked up into the sky and saw winged pigs flying around, that would certainly be a sight to behold! However, even though the saying "when pigs fly" is a common one, that's not something you'll probably ever see. This phrase is an idiom of improbability used to describe something that is never going to happen.
The phrase when pigs fly is a figure of speech used to indicate that something is impossible. When someone states that they intend to do something that simply cannot be done, one could respond with a literal statement to that effect. Or, one could simply respond "when pigs fly." The expression loosely means "that is not possible" or "that will not happen." As this is a common English language expression, native speakers of the language and those who are familiar with common expressions and their meanings will know what the speaker means.
The "when pigs fly" idiom is a form of adynaton, which is a type of hyperbole. The word adynaton comes from the Greek word adunaton, which means impossible. Adynaton is a figure of speech involving the use of a phrase that represents something that is impossible or highly improbable.
The use of this type of phrase is intended to convey that something is so improbable as to be considered impossible. Review a few examples of "when pigs fly" and similar phrases in sentences.
- When will I go to work in the family business? When pigs fly, that's when.
- Can you have a pet gerbil? Not until pigs fly.
- Pigs will fly before I'll ever try sushi again. Yuck!
- When will I buy you yet another video game? When pigs sprout wings and fly.
If you say something and the person you are speaking to responds with "when pigs fly," that means the individual is trying to tell you that what you're saying won't happen or that the person disbelieves what you are saying.
|I plan to graduate from college a semester early.||When pigs fly.|
|I am going to lose 25 pounds before we go on vacation in two weeks.||When pigs fly.|
|The doctor said that I should eat more sugar.||When pigs fly.|
|I don't think my teacher will notice that I copied an essay I found on the internet.||When pigs fly.|
|I heard that the new restaurant in town has a filet mignon entree for under $10.||When pigs fly.|
"When pigs fly" is just one of several idioms of improbability commonly used in English. There are plenty of creative and funny ways to let people know that what they're talking about is all but unattainable or impossible. To use another idiom, these types of phrases often refer to pipe dreams.
- cold day in he** - It'll be a cold day in he** before I apologize for speaking the truth.
- don't hold your breath - Your goal is to win the lottery? Don't hold your breath.
- get blood from a stone - You'll be able to get blood from a stone before I clean out the swimming pool.
- lightning in a bottle - You'd be as likely to catch lightning in a bottle as to convince your parents to let you go on this trip.
- needle in a haystack - Locating a missing sock is as likely as finding a needle in a haystack.
- not in a million years - Not in a million years would I ever go on a date with that jerk again.
- on a cold day in July - It'll be a cold day in July before I even think about going skydiving.
- snowball's chance in he** - Our team has a snowball's chance in he** of going to the playoffs.
- the first of never - When do I expect him to do what he promised? On the first of never.
- when salt blossoms - I'll think about going back to that place when salt blossoms.
Now that you've explored the story behind "when pigs fly" and are aware of some other funny idioms of improbability, maybe you're interested in exploring figures of speech even further? Start by exploring some metaphor examples. Then, move on to simile examples. Soon you'll be a master of figurative language!