“I hope you are in the pink,” I recently said to a friend, who replied, “What does in the pink mean?” Well, of course, it means “in good health,” or, in a broader sense, “excellence of any kind”—but why?
Some think it refers to the rosy color of the cheeks of a healthy Nordic person. Others suggest it stems from the energetic qualities displayed by fox-hunters, who wear scarlet coats known as "pinks." Still others believe it to be a corruption of pinnacle, meaning the top or highest point.
There is no evidence to support any of these theories, and the most likely origin of the phrase is in the popular name of the dianthus, a favorite flower of the sixteenth century. These flowers were commonly called “pinks”—because of the jagged edges of their petals, which look as if they had been “pinked” by pinking shears. The origin of the verb pink is probably the Old English pyngan, from Latin pungere, meaning to “prick or pierce.”
Since many of the dianthus flowers were of a pale rosy hue, the name pink was then applied to that color.
The word pink became used as a synonym for flower, in the figurative sense of being “in full bloom.” It meant being perfect in any way. In Shakespeare’s 1590 play Romeo and Juliet Mercutio says, “Nay, I am the very pincke of curtesie.” In his1621 play The Pilgrim John Fletcher wrote, “This is the prettiest pilgrim—The pink of pilgrims.” And in the 1720 comedy Kensington Gardens John Leigh maintains, “’Tis the Pink of the Mode to marry at first Sight.” In 1845 Charles Dickens used the phrase ironically in a letter describing an Italian town to mean the ultimate in a pejorative sense: “Of all the picturesque abominations in the World, commend me to Fondi. It is the very pink of hideousness and squalid misery.”
By the early twentieth century the shortened phrase, simply in the pink, was being used to describe the height of good health. By 1910 we find the phrase tickled pink to mean being “amused to the point that one glows with pleasure.”
As a description of someone whose political views are to the left, but not so red as an all-out Communist, pink was first used in the 1920s. The Wall Street Journal referred to followers of the progressive Senator Robert LaFollette as “visionaries, ne’er-do-wells, and parlor pinks,” and Time Magazine coined the word pinko in 1925.
One other derivative use of pink is in the phrase pinks and greens, referring to the World War II U. S. Army officers’ uniform, in which the jacket was a dark olive green (Olive Drab #51), and the trousers were a light tan color (Drab #54) with a slight reddish hue.
Incidentally, the word pinkie, referring to the “little finger,” has nothing to do with the color pink. It is from the Dutch pinkje, meaning “small,” and its use in English dates to 1840.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is sometimes in the pink—but more often in the red or white, dependingon which wine he is drinking.
If I’m feeling blue,
Invite me for a drink--
And if you offer two,
That’ll put me in the pink.