The other day I was hired by a company to rewrite their brochures, website and other assorted texts. They are all ‘hard-boiled’ engineers and their business is laying and repairing pipelines across the globe. What they needed was somebody with a fresh view and the ability to clear their copy of an overabundance of technical jargon and make it readable and attractive.
I’m always intrigued by the specific terminology of any branch of business, because it’s highly interesting to see how they’ve dealt with the problem of describing new products and activities. I remember, back in my university days, translating computer manuals for IBM and literally having to invent new words because I was describing new processes that had not yet been named. Quite a thrill for a budding linguist!
But back to pipe laying. I started on the new job by reading through all the client’s brochures and web copy. And indeed it was full of incomprehensible terms like ‘pipeline integrity’, ‘spool piece design’ or – and here I was suddenly thunderstruck: ‘temporary pig traps’. Temporary pig traps!!?? I immediately conjured up a vision of a squealing pig trapped in cage, but what in heaven’s name did this have to do with pipes?
I read on and soon found related terms like ‘piggability studies’, ‘intelligent pigging’, ‘pig launcher’ and pig catchers’. But how and why on earth was the term pigging coined? Here’s the answer: ‘Pigs’ are cleaning devices that are pushed through a pipeline for cleaning or inspection purposes. Nowadays these pigs are highly sophisticated devices with built-in cameras and sensors, but the original ones were made from straw wrapped in wire. As they traveled through the pipes they made a squealing noise, somewhat like a squealing pig, hence the name pigging.
You can imagine my delight as a self-proclaimed wordsmith in coming across these gems. But more than just being a funny and very evocative term, ‘pigging your pipes’ seems to me a wonderful metaphor for cleaning up your act, whatever that is. As copywriters, pipe layers or simply as human beings, pigging our pipes is something we should definitely do on a regular basis.