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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Case of the Politically Correct Pinkie

So my wife was with our youngest daugther at her violin lesson the other day. While there the teacher in discussing the proper technique for holding the bow mentions that she is reluctant to refer to the smallest finger (pinkie finger) as "pinkie" because "several of my students have little fingers that are not pink."

Now, the teacher is a wonderful lady and I mean no disrespect but does anyone else find that a little odd? Are we really so sensitive that the mention of the word "pinkie" will offend?

Besides the silliness of the entire question a moment's thought tells us that the adjective pinkie must refer to something other than skin color since of course if it was in reference to pigmentation it wouldn't single out one of the five fingers. My father-in-law informs me that the word "pinkie" or "pinky" originally referred to something small or insignificant and was also used to describe small eyes or eyes half shut. My daughter's teacher can rest at ease.

Part of the entry from the Oxford English Dictionary Online follows for those interested.

pinkie, adj. and n.1 DRAFT REVISION Dec. 2005

Brit. /pki/, U.S. /pki/ Forms: 17- pinky, 18- pinkey, 18- pinkie. [ PINK n.6 + -Y suffix6. Much earlier currency (from the 16th cent.) is app. implied by forms at PINKANY n.
With sense A. cf. earlier PINK n.5, PINKING adj.1

With sense B. 2 cf. Dutch pinkje little finger (1717 or earlier; pink in the same sense (1599 as pinck; of unknown origin, perh. originally children's language) + -je, diminutive suffix).]

A. adj. Chiefly Sc. Small, tiny. Of the eyes: narrow, winking, half-shut. Cf. PINK n.5, PINKANY n.
Sc. National Dict. s.v. pink records this sense as still in use in Lothian in 1965.

1718 A. RAMSAY Christ's-kirk on Green II. 16 Meg Wallet wi her pinky Eeen, Gart Lawrie's Heart-strings dirle. 1808 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang., Pinkie, a term applied to small eyes. 1818 W. MIDFORD Coll. Songs 31 A bussy-tailed pinkey wee Frenchman. 1825 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang. Suppl. s.v., Pinkie Een, eyes that are narrow and long, and that seem half closed. 1923 G. WATSON Roxburghshire Word-bk. 235 A pinkie bairn.
B. n.1

1. Sc. Something very small or insignificant; a tiny thing. Now rare exc. in sense B. 2.

1808 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang., Pinkie, the smallest candle that is made. 1923 G. WATSON Roxburghshire Word-bk. 235 Pinkie, anything very small.
2. colloq. (orig. Sc.). The little finger. Also (occas.): the little toe.

1808 J. JAMIESON Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang., Pinkie, the little finger; a term mostly used by children, or in talking to them. 1828 D. M. MOIR Life Mansie Wauch i. 12 His pinkie was hacked off by a dragoon. 1898 J. PATON Castlebraes ix. 297 Raither..than lift yae wee pinkie tae save that Deevilish man. 1935 J. CORRIE Income 11 Then the pinkie took sair, and puir Sandy was left wi' a fit without ony taes. 1948 Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch 15 Mar. 17/4, I grip the ball with my thumb and pinky. 1965 E. TUNIS Colonial Craftsmen vi. 140 Even the most elegant lady poured tea or coffee from her cup into her saucer to cool and then, with delicately extended pinkie, drank it from the saucer. 1973 J. MARKS Mick Jagger (1974) 11 As for Mick, he splashes on some fragrance and checks his eyeliner with his pinkie. 2002 A. PHILLIPS Prague vii. 323 He brushed the wax crumbs away with speedy sweeps of his right pinkie.

1 comment:

Ron Hostetter said...

You are kidding me. I never even fathomed the thought that "pinkie" referred to color as opposed to size. That is a new one on me. It's a damn crazy world we live in.