Pig-in-a-poke originated in the late Middle Ages. This confidence game entails a sale of a (suckling) "pig" in a "poke" (bag). The bag ostensibly contains a live healthy little pig, but actually contains a cat (not particularly prized as a source of meat, and at any rate, quite unlikely to grow to be a large hog). If one buys a "pig in a poke" without looking in the bag (a colloquial expression in the English language, meaning "to be a sucker"), the person has bought something of less value than was assumed, and has learned firsthand the lesson caveat emptor. Dutch, German, Scandinavian and Polish speakers employ the expression "buying a cat-in-the-bag" when someone buys something without examining it beforehand. In Sweden and Finland, the "cat" in the phrase is replaced by "pig", referring to the bag's supposed content, but the saying is otherwise identical. This is also said to be where the phrase "letting the cat out of the bag" comes from, although there may be other explanations.
The modern version of this is probably something like the big-screen-tv-in-the-back-of-the-truck-scam.
Game and Story Use
- In many gaming settings, this con game could be pulled with something more interesting than cats and pigs, and which may be harder to check on.
- That's a blink dog, I tell you. It's just not blinking yet 'cause it's a pup. Give 'em a few more weeks to grow into his blinkin', and he'll surprise you.
- Dangerous creatures could be hard to verify safely. Cockatrice in a poke?
- A simple mystic aura spell could make any old stick pass as a wand, especially in the hands of a unscrupulous multiclassed wizard/thief.
- This can also be bait-and-switch: there is a bag with a piglet in it, but there are also numberous identical bags containing cats. The customer is shown his piglet, and then the bag is switched for one with a cat in it by sleight of hand.
- Similar things can be done with switching almost any substandard material for the material the buyer thinks he is getting - barrels of water (or at best low grade beer - maybe even orc ale) instead of beer or wine, sacks of grain that are mostly sand … that sort of thing. As with other versions, the key is either not to be about when the customer examines their goods or to have an element of criminal conspiracy (perhaps selling by forestalling or without paying appropriate duty) that will prevent them involving the authorities. Of course the latter, and the modern version of putting something in the small print that allows either a substitute material or a massive variation of quality standards, do nothing to prevent the customer taking more personal action against you if they have the ability to do so.