Formulaic language brought to life

Today’s Zits:

Jeremy’s dad is startled to see flying pigs. But then he finds out that Jeremy cleaned his bathroom without being threatened. So he reasons: for Jeremy to do this, pigs will have to fly; Jeremy has done this; therefore, pigs must be flying. The flying pigs are explained.

When pigs fly is a formula conveying ‘never’, given that pigs don’t fly: if you say that X will happen when pigs fly, you’re saying that pigs flying is a precondition for X happening, so if that precondition can’t ever be satisfied, then X won’t ever happen. Any precondition that the speaker believes won’t ever happen could serve in this reasoning, but pigs flying has been conventionalized for this purpose.

One Response to “Formulaic language brought to life”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Robert Coren on Google+:

    This reminds that there is a bakery somewhere in this region (which supplies some of the local supermarkets) called “When Pigs Fly”; I’ve always supposed that the name was the response somebody got when they said “I think I’d like to open a bakery”.

    Stores in: Freeport, York, and Kittery ME; Portsmouth NH; and Somerville, Brookline, and Jamaica Plain MA.

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