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How pink became a color

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Pinks, or what we know as carnations - those hardy flowers of the garden and the buttonhole - first came to Britain in the 16th century. (Carnations originally grew in the Middle East.) You would think they were so named because of their pinkish color, but you would be wrong. Pink was not the name for a color until 200 years later.

The word pink derives from the Middle English word "poinken," meaning to pierce holes in leather or cloth. Later, it came to mean "to decorate the edges" of something, as in the pinked, or scalloped, edges of the carnation's petals.

To "pink" something is to cut a jagged edge, as you would with pinking shears used in sewing.

Because the pinked edge became such a popular term of adornment, it was commonly used in figurative expressions to mean the utmost - as in "the pink of courtesy" and "the pink of perfection."

The color pink very likely came from the lightly tinted pinked petals of the flowers called pinks. And because pinks were originally flesh-colored, they were also called carnations, from the Latin word carnatio, meaning flesh.

SOURCES: 'Dictionary of Word Origins,' by Joseph Shipley; 'One Hundred Flowers and How They Got Their Names,' by Diana Wells; 'Garden Flower Folklore,' by Laura C. Martin.


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