I gave my little cousin a piggy back ride the other day and I suddenly wondered where the phrase ‘ piggy back ‘ came from. I knew this would be the place to find out!
That’s a great question! What does carrying someone on one’s back have to do with pigs, anyhow? Well, nothing, actually. Instead, piggy back is an alteration of pig back, which is an alteration of pickback, which is an alteration of pickpack, which is – no, that’s where it stops! In fact, etymologists aren’t sure whether the original form was pickback or pickpack (though the earliest surviving form is picbacke from 1565). The important word is actually pick, which, in this case, is thought to be a variant of the verb pitch “throw”. The back element would refer to one’s back (spinal area), while the pack element would be “bundle of items for carrying”. The notion here is one of “throwing” something over one’s back, or “throwing” a pack on one’s shoulder. Isn’t it funny how we have a tendency turn an unfamiliar word into something more familiar?