PINK IS FOR BOYS
A trademarked shade of weathered red sold by Murray’s Toggery Shop on Nantucket to unapologetically preppy men. It is, however, decidedly not pink—not the color of Thomas Pink shirts signaling the elegant, crisp aggression of the office; not the color of pink polos dewed with sweat on the golf course; not a match to the rustling pink newsprint haunting the early-morning hours before trading. Nantucket Red is thoroughly relaxed and never, ever pink.
SOMETIMES, PINK IS THE COLOR FOR BOYS
A century ago, baby boys were swaddled in pink—a watered-down version of red—and girls were in blue, evocative of the Virgin Mary. Ladies’ Home Journal said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
PINK TRIANGLE = GAY MAN
Homosexual men in Nazi camps wore an inverted pink triangle; lesbians, prostitutes and other “loose” women (including users of birth control) wore an inverted black triangle. Both symbols have been reclaimed by gay-rights organizations as symbols of pride.
FINANCIAL TIMES PAGES
The U.K.’s leading business paper distinguishes itself from competitors by its salmon-pink paper. So ubiquitous is this trademark that “salmon press” is often used as shorthand for the economic press or business sections of general-interest newspapers.
Naval camouflage promoted by Admiral Louis Mountbatten of the British Royal Navy during WWII. He colored his entire flotilla of destroyers this shade, intended to match the sky just before dawn or at dusk. Mountbatten Pink scored a “victory” by disguising the HMS Kenya (a.k.a. “The Pink Lady”) off the coast of Norway. The Germans’ marker dye used to target shelling matched The Pink Lady’s hue so well, they were firing more at their own shells than at the ship.
Mountbatten Pink fell out of favor in 1942 due to a critical snag: As soon as the sun actually rose above the horizon, it spotlighted the big pink ships with unfortunate, brilliant accuracy.
THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH
These 53 sovereign states, members of the former British Empire, are often colored pink on maps. In the empire’s heyday, these pink countries represented a behemoth of trade, cultural ties and a visible manifestation of the Queen’s power sweeping across the globe.
ALL THE THINGS YOUR PINKY FINGER CAN MEAN
Whereas lifting your pinky while drinking tea signals one’s collusion with manners of the British Empire, the pinky has other expressions. Holding the pinky up signals your need to urinate (India) or a vulgarity (China). Link pinky fingers to swear an oath or ask forgiveness (U.S.) or to make a bet (Turkey). Waggling your pinky downward also can refer to a small penis (Australia).
A term coined in TIME Magazine in 1926, a pinko (or “parlor pink”) will express sympathy for the Soviet Red Revolution but rarely budge when urged toward real action. Pass the petit fours.
GEORGIA'S ROSE REVOLUTION
Amid the crush of Georgian-flag designs in the past century, this dark-pink flag fluttered twice, briefly, over the melee below. It first flew in 1918 over the short-lived independent Democratic Republic of Georgia. The Soviets firmly tucked this flag away when they took over in 1921, but the tricolor rose reappeared in 1990 as Soviet rule fell, only to get stuffed back in the closet in 2004 as a symbol of the chaotic bloodiness of the post-Soviet period.
CHERRY BLOSSOMS & DEAD WARRIORS
Since the Heian period (794–1191), the quick burst of short-lived sakura flowers has made the perfect, agreeably elegiac symbol of life’s transience. Just as sakura petals drift suddenly to the ground, so samurai die unquestioningly when duty calls. Kamikaze suicide units in WWII painted cherry blossoms on the sides of their planes, and folk wisdom suggested warriors’ souls were reincarnated in the fragile blossoms.
The ne plus ultra in femininity has a name in Japan: Yamato Nadeshiko, named for the willowy, pale-pink nadeshiko flower native to the nation. Yamato is chaste, quiet, loving, obedient, but—per Japanese WWII propaganda featuring her image—will brandish her takeyari (bamboo spear) to kill if her family or chastity is threatened.
Soft-core, low-budget erotic films popularized in Japan from the 1960s through the 1980s, pink films (pinku eiga) worked cleverly around Japanese censorship laws forbidding the display of pubic hair or the so-called “working parts” in a sex film. Classic pink films include Go, Go; Second Time Virgin; Flower and Snake and Daydream.
Parisian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli coined the term “shocking pink” in 1928 as both the name of her signature perfume and the vivid pink box (shaped like Mae West’s torso) the bottle came in. Schiap, as her friends called her, adored shock, but doubly so when the shock involved a transgressive peek of pink: a giant lamb chop-shaped hat, for example (a joint project with Salvador Dalí), or a dress with a pink, trompe-l’oeil breast stitched in fabric. Such outré behavior might explain how shocking pink became a slang term for female genitalia, although Schiap’s motto hardly screams feminism to non-clotheshorses: “Never fit a dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress.”
MARY KAY'S PINK CADILLACS
In 1968, cosmetics mogul Mary Kay awarded her top saleswoman a pink Cadillac, painted to match the company’s Mountain Laurel shade of blusher. She expanded to her top five producers the next year, spurring hard-driving saleswomen globally to push for the big pink “career car”—although, since 1998, the color of rolling success is not limited to pink, but includes white, black and smoky platinum choices.
THE PINK LADIES IN THE MOVIE GREASE
Female greaser gang from the musical-turned-film Grease. The Pink Ladies included Jan (the fat and funny one), Marty (the super-pretty one), Betty Rizzo (the tough, sarcastic one) and Frenchy (the beauty-school dropout). The Pink Ladies teach doe-eyed Sandy to swill booze, crack gum, talk back (to the Burger Palace Boys, their brother-gang) and definitely put out.
Released in 1982, a sequel to the video game Pac-Man. In Ms. Pac-Man, game-play got faster, ghosts cagier, “warp tunnels” suck fruit from side to side, and Ms. Pac-Man does it all with a floppy pink bow half-obscuring her eyes. Also, the orange ghost Clyde is renamed Sue, introducing virtual girl-dot-on-girl-dot action.
Persian cuisine is rife with pink ingredients derived from rose petals, rose hips and rose-tinted sugars and syrups. Bastani, Persian rosewater ice cream, is served between wafers as an ice-cream sandwich, evidence of a fine tradition of ice cream in the desert. By 400 B.C. Persians were already storing ice spirited down from the mountains and licking cones well into the summer months.
EATING ROSE HIPS
Rose hips, dark pink or orange in color, are a miracle food: They ward off urinary infections, constipation and iron loss in people, and they boost vitamin C in pet chinchillas (who can’t produce their own). The fine hairs inside a rose-hip bulb also make a nice itching powder.
THE BLACK DEATH & ROSES
Roses lurk around the Black Death as odd parentheticals. Despite popular claims to the contrary, the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie” does not describe blood-tinged skin blotches indicating bubonic plague; the rhyme actually dates from the 19th century.
Which is not to say roses don’t crop up during times of plague. The general post-Black Death chaos freed up Christine de Pizan to become Europe’s first full-time female writer. Her chief target: the Roman de la Rose—the medieval French poem celebrating the female ideal as represented by the flower—taking particular issue with the antifeminist stuff Jean de Meun had added to the text. Christine and Jean locked horns, circling each other poisonously like a literaro-feminist ring-around-the-rosie, well into the 16th century.
Indian spiritual leader Meher Baba dressed himself and his mandali (circle) in pink robes, signifying love, embodied for him in partner Mehera Irani. Meher Baba stopped speaking from 1925 until his death in 1969; presumably the pink robes did triple duty to express his feelings during this period.
Also known as 1/f noise, pink noise is a signal with a frequency spectrum in which—ahem—“the power spectral density is proportional to the reciprocal of the frequency.” Pink noise occurs everywhere, from the electromagnetic radiation output of certain astronomical bodies to heartbeat rhythms and the pitch-progression of almost all musical melodies. Fittingly, pink noise sits halfway between white and red noise (also known as Brownian noise).
PINKY THE PAC-MAN GHOST
One of the four Pac-Man ghosts, along with brothers Blinky, Inky and Clyde. Ghosts seek to eat Pac-Man, deducting one of his lives, but when Pac-Man eats an energizer pellet, the tables are turned and hunter becomes prey. The ghosts are slowed down, they turn deep blue, they reverse direction, and if they’re not lucky, they’re eaten themselves. Their dead eyes, floating to the sidelines, represent one of the more heart-tugging instances of digital death.
SEEING PINK ELEPHANTS
When you’re good and snockered, you might start seeing pink elephants—but the real Pink Elephant Brigade stands in reserve, when delirium tremens begin.
PINKS IN DRAG RACING
Winner-take-all TV show that debuted in 2005 on the Speed Channel. Whichever participant wins three out of the five races takes the loser’s car. The show’s title reportedly comes from the coinage “pink slip,” which handily refers to both getting fired and the ownership certificate for a car.
THE GIRO D'ITALIA
The winner of this long-distance cycling race throughout Italy scores the maglia rosa (pink jersey)—colored to remind bystanders of the pink pages of the sponsoring newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport.
They’re colored scarlet, but they’re actually called pinks, as in “donning your pinks” to hunt. Supposedly, pink doesn’t refer to the red as it weathers and fades, but to a legendary hunting-garb tailor named Pink, Pinke or even Pinque.
Super-tiny, thinly traded, often-volatile stocks traded on what’s known as the “over-the-counter” market. Pink sheets are renegades, beyond most rules for disclosing financial information, and hence are pretty suspect. Before electronic quotes, quotes to these mad little puppies were printed on pink paper to alert all comers of the wild ride implicit therein.