can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

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can't make a silk purse (out) of a sow's ear

proverb You cannot fashion something beautiful or valuable out of poor materials. What do you want me to do with this tacky fabric? You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!
See also: ear, make, of, purse, silk
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

Be unable to turn something ugly or inferior into something attractive or of value, as in No matter how expensive his clothes, he still looks sloppy-you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear . This expression was already a proverb in the mid-1500s.
See also: ear, make, of, out, purse, silk
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

If you say you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you mean that it is impossible to make something very successful or of high quality out of something which is unsuccessful or of poor quality. He did his best to coach the team but you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Note: People often vary this expression. It takes more than a good swimming pool and an indoor tennis court or two to make a sow's ear of a resort into a silk purse. Afterwards, Kendall made no attempt to describe this sow's ear as a silk purse. Note: A sow is a female pig, and the ears of a pig are regarded as the least useful body parts when the animal is slaughtered.
See also: ear, make, of, out, purse, silk
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

One cannot turn something inherently inferior into something of value. This proverbial metaphor dates from about 1500, and with some slight variation (“silk” is sometimes “velvet”) makes its way from proverb collections (by Howell, Ray, Dykes, et al.) into literature (Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, Jonathan Swift, Charles Lamb, Robert Browning, George Bernard Shaw, and Clifford Odets, among others).
See also: ear, make, of, out, purse, silk

you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

You cannot turn something inferior or bad into something of value. This proverbial warning was issued in various forms from the sixteenth century on. It clearly had no literal basis; indeed, the absurdity of trying to turn pig’s ears into silk (or velvet or satin, as some variants have it) no doubt helped the saying survive.
See also: ear, make, of, out, purse, silk
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in periodicals archive ?
[bar] YOU can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as the old adage goes.
What makes the difference to the whole heap of decent folk who fight back and make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, is drugs.
The Government have abdicated their responsibility, and left the poor chief constables and their officers to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Face it, Mr Ross, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
That will be as good as it can be for the people of Wales, but it won't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Remember that old adage "garbage in, garbage out," because, as in all cases it is tree, it is impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Now, as someone who does a bit of TV and has the utmost respect for make-up artists - who with a few deft strokes can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear - I would still take issue with their ability to erase 60 years worth of creases, lines and wrinkles with eye shadow and a slick of lip gloss.
Well, just bear in mind the old adage `you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear'.
But to create the clarity of the space, and allow its very complex interconnections, to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear of a site, and to relate structure and climate control in such an satisfactory way shows architectural and engineering skills of a very high order.
The Government has abdicated its responsibility, and left the poor chief constables and their officers to make a silk purse out of a sows ear!