The Pig Farmer's Wife

Yellow Pig Day

Jul 17

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore


“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” ~ Winston Churchill

The Pig Farmer's Wife

For the mathematically inclined, Yellow Pig Day, July 17, is a day  invented by mathematicians in recognition of interesting properties of the Number 17.

The Yellow Pig is believed to have originated with mathematicians Michael Spivak and David C. Kelly, while they were students at Princeton University in the early 1960s. They began listing interesting properties of the number 17, and somehow a 17-eyelashed yellow pig mascot was born.Y ellow Pig Day events have been held by mathematicians since at least the 1960s.

David Kelly, now a math professor at Hampshire College gives a lecture on the number 17 every year. In addition he has somewhere between 289 and 4913 yellow pigs lying around his house and gives tours to his students.

People have tried coming up with rival numbers (e.g. 23), however, Kelly beats them in a competition by listing more interesting properties than those of the rival number. 


Here is a short list of interesting properties of the number 17 which has wide significance in pure mathematics, as well as in applied sciences, law, music, religion, sports, and other cultural phenomena:

Seventeen is the 7th prime number. The next prime is nineteen, with which it forms a twin prime. 17 is the sum of the first four primes. 

Described at MIT as 'the least random number', according to hackers' lore. This is supposedly because in a study where respondents were asked to choose a random number from 1 to 20, 17 was the most common choice. This study has been repeated a number of times.

The number of syllables in a haiku (5+7+5).

Some species of cicadas have a life cycle of 17 years (i.e. they are buried in the ground for 17 years between every mating season).

The number 17 is significant enough for a named phobia. The fear of the number 17 is called 'heptadecaphobia' or 'heptakaidekaphobia'.


In Italy, 17 is considered an unlucky number. One anagram of the Roman numeral XVII is VIXI, which in Latin translates as "I have lived", with the implication "My life is over" or "I'm dead".  Some Alitalia planes have no row 17, and some Italian hotels have no room 17.  The 17th curve at the Cesana bobsled run at the Winter Olympics in Turin was called "Senza Nome", or "Without a name".

If performing this dance today, and needing to call the dancers to the set, consider paying tribute to today by using your best hog-calling voice and bringing the dancers to attention by calling "Sooie" 17 times.

 'Sooie' is a pig calling call common in the north east of England and the United States.  'Giss giss' also used in England.   To see and hear a vintage 1940 hog-calling contest by British Pathé films, complete with bathing beauties releasing the target porkers, click here.

The Pig Farmer's Wife
The Pig Farmer's Wife

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