Sunday, 3 August 2014

Blue for a girl, and pink for...erm...a boy? The history of the word 'Pink'

This blog post is all about the word ‘pink’. Even short, simple words in English have a backstory, as you know if you have read my posts on Nice and Okay. Likewise, ‘pink’ has a fruitful word history: it started as a verb, moved to being a noun, and then an adjective as we know it today.
The word ‘pink’ started in the 1590s as a verb (‘to pink’) which meant to make a small cut in something. This is where the name for pinking shears comes from – scissors that have a zigzagged edge.

 It was the Dutch who associated pinck oogen (small eyes) with the delicate flowers of the Dianthus (also known as the Carnation). Interestingly, just as the pinking shears may create a ragged edge on fabrics, the petals of the Dianthus are also crimped and look perforated. It was the liking of pink with flowers which inspired the word’s next set of meanings: perfection, symbolised by a pink carnation. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet states ‘Nay, I am the very pink of curtesie’.

The first time ‘pink’ was used as an adjective was in the 1680s and in Elizabethan England, pink garments were the fashion for both sexes. Sumptuary Laws, which determined the color of clothing people wore by their social status, made pink available to both the upper and lower classes and spread the colour’s influence on the public.

Jumping further forward, it was in the 1920s when pink started to be used as a marketing tool for children – not for girls, but boys. This was because pink was seen as a colour that was full of energy, yet not a full powerful red associated with full maturity. In contrast, a pale, soft blue was marketed toward girls because it was associated with the Virgin Mary. It was after the Second World War when blue and pink switched – blue for boys, pink for girls. 

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