MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Are They Called “Piggy-Back Rides”?

Catching a ride on the back of a pig isn’t really a thing, right? And yet, people love horsing around & giving others what are called “piggyback rides”. But why are they called “piggyback rides”? I mean, people walk on two feet, right? Pigs, on the other hand, hoof it on four. What gives? Where did the term come from?

“Piggyback Rides” started with a different phrase in the 1500s that simply implied someone’s back being involved. It actually has nothing to do with pigs at all, as a matter of fact. That phrase was: “pick pack”. The word “pick”, at that time, could also mean “pitch”, so the theory goes that “pick pack” originally referred to a pack pitched on your back for easy hauling. Before long, people began using the phrase to describe carrying other things on your back (things like other people).

How “pick pack” eventually became “piggyback” isn’t totally clear, but we do know that, somewhere along the way, “pack” got changed to “back”, possibly because “pack” was so regularly misheard as “back” (especially since the back was a major facet of the whole “pick pack” process.

Experts also believe that “pick” became “pig” because the words are also so similar sounding. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest notated mention of “pig back” was in 1736. Pick pack, pick back, and then pig back gradually led to pick-a-pack, pick-a-back, and pig-a-back. And that last one seems to have gotten mistaken regularly enough for piggyback that, sometime in the mid-1800s, piggyback eventually became the most widely used form.