23 July 2016

10 Misnomers - 500 Words Ep. 28

Looking back through the HH archives the other day, we happened across this little gem of information:

The Pont Neuf, then, is a misnomer—its name really doesn’t (or, at least, no longer) fits it. 

And from strawberries to the Big Bang Theory, this week on the Haggard Hawks YouTube channel we’re looking at 10 misnomers precisely like this one:

In fact the dictionary is so full of examples like these that cutting our list down to just 10 here was a brutal business. Koala bears, for instance, aren’t bears. Irish moss is a marine algae. Chinese chequers aren’t Chinese. Fireflies aren’t flies. Peanuts aren’t nuts. Thousand Island dressing takes its name from an archipelago of 1,864 islands. And let’s not get started on the Hundred Years War

But as misnomers go, this one will forever be one of the best:

So how the dickens did that happen?

The colour pink as we know it today takes its name from the Dianthus flowers known as “pinks”. They in turn are thought to take their name either from the use of pink as a verb, meaning “to perforate” or “to give an ornate trim”, or else from the even older use of pink as an adjective, meaning “half-closed” or “winking” (which was, at the risk of making this discussion even more complicated, the original meaning of pink-eye). If that’s the case, then pink probably has its roots in Dutch, and might even be a distant relative of blink.

The “pink” in French pink is something of a mystery, but one very plausible theory claims that it derives from an old German word, pinkeln, literally meaning “to pee” (hence its yellowy colour). This murky-yellow shade of pink is actually the oldest recorded use of the word pink in Englishand remains in use in artistic contexts—but nowadays the pale red version has all but taken its place.

Why? Well, no one is entirely sure, but one popular theory is that the use of pink to refer to pale red derives from the popularity of Dianthus flowers in Elizabethan England. According to the story, pinks were one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite flowers and so were grown and sold all across England in the sixteenth century. That helped to establish their name, pink, with their pale fuchsia colour, and it’s that colour that the word has remained attached to ever since. 

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