Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Loose Lips, Pink Ships

One of my coworkers (we'll call her M) occasionally wears a green hoodie with the words LOVE PINK emblazoned in large black letters on the back. It always strikes me as an ironic sweater — it says LOVE PINK, but it's green and black, no pink at all.

The first time I saw it, I was perplexed. I wasn't familiar with the LOVE PINK motto, so I asked about it. It turns out that M used to work at Victoria's Secret, a company that has apparently successfully commandeered an entire color for financial gain, and that LOVE PINK was one of its marketing campaigns.

Being the unfashionable bachelor that I am, though, Victoria's Secret wasn't the first pink connection that crossed my mind.

I have two young sons, and we love to window shop in the toy section at Target. But when we're there, we religiously avoid what we refer to only as "the pink aisle," where one might find Barbie, her friends, her dream car, and all the other accouterments of the stylish lifestyle of the statuesque and plastic.

I thought, then, for the briefest moment, that LOVE PINK might refer to Barbie. But I've never seen Barbie-themed fashion (or Barbie-themed anything) that didn't have a big Barbie logo splashed across it. And besides, black and green just are not good colors for the aging spinster.

I also thought of the singer who goes by the name Pink. Maybe the hoodie was a show of support for one of M's favorite musical acts. But not likely — M doesn't really seem like the Pink type. (I could be wrong.)

Steven Tyler 1 OwenTMuir2007©Steven "Like the Bing on Your Cherry" Tyler,Master of SubtletyImage by Owen T Muir via FlickrIn fact, pink shows up quite a bit in music. One of my favorite bands is (Roger Waters–era) Pink Floyd. Another more contemporary favorite is the redheaded Tori Amos, whose second solo album is titled "Under the Pink." Bruce Springsteen (and, later, Aretha Franklin) sang about a "Pink Cadillac" — and Clint Eastwood starred in a film by that name. Edith Piaf's signature tune was "La vie en rose" — "Life in Pink."

And then there's the song "Pink" by Aerosmith, the band that never met a double entendre it didn't like. This whole song talks about pink, but it really isn't talking about the color at all. Here's a sample of the lyrics:
Pink it's my new obsession.
Yeah, pink, it's not even a question.
Pink on the lips of your lover,
'Cause pink is the love you discover.

Pink as the bing on your cherry.
Pink, 'cause you are so very.
Pink, it's the color of passion,
'Cause today it just goes with the fashion.
Through the miracle of metonymy, Aerosmith manages to sing an entire song about their favorite female body parts without mentioning them by name even once. If I were to wear a LOVE PINK sweater to work, my coworkers might assume that this is the type of pink I'm "loving," which might land me in front of an HR rep, and possibly lead to a pink slip (and not the kind of pink slip they sell at Victoria's Secret).

Then, having lost my job, I might spend my time watching old movies like Pretty in Pink, Pink Flamingos by John Waters (no relation to Roger), or one of the many Pink Panther movies, both the Steve Martin remakes and the good ones. Plus, I already have the first season of Pinky and the Brain on DVD!

But pop culture doesn't have a lock on pink; it comes into play in a number of disciplines:
    Caricature of Sir Robert Rodney Wilmot (1853-1...A red pink coatImage via Wikipedia
  • Textiles: The sewing-capable use pinking shears to keep cut fabrics from raveling. Or unraveling.
  • Fashion: A pink coat is a traditional hunting jacket. It was never actually pink — more scarlet — but, like the stetson, was probably named for its designer, a Mr. Pink or Pinque.
  • Ophthalmology: Eyeballs are definitely not pretty in pink, which is why we try to avoid conjunctivitis, aka pink eye. (In Shakespeare's time, pink eyes [or pink eyne] would be half-closed but not necessarily infected.)
  • Orthopedics: True story: I once saw a girl break her pinkie finger during a rugby game and then get upset because her coach wouldn't let her continue to play.
  • Bartending: A pink lady is a creamy drink made with gin and grenadine.
  • Budget alcoholism: In Australia, a pinky (or a pinkie) is a cheap wine.
A pink (or pinky) is also a type of boat with a narrow stern. Perhaps if I were a sailor, I might be able to get away with wearing a LOVE PINK shirt to work as an expression of my love for the sea. It would go well with my pink LOVE BOAT baseball hat, which shows a smiling Gavin MacLeod as Captain Stubing.

But I am most assuredly a landlubber. No matter how "in the pink" I am when I step onto a boat, at the first sign of turbulence, I go a little green. Like M's LOVE PINK sweater.

"I'm sorry, but we don't allow fox hunting on this ship."
Flowers in the Dianthus family are also called pinks, even when they're white, red, or purple. What they all have in common is petals with frilly edges, as if they had been cut out with pinking shears. In fact, the idea of pinking, piercing or poking holes into, predates the color pink, as does the use of pink to indicate something small — like your little finger.

People probably started using pink as a color based on the prevailing color of the Dianthus family of flowers (which also goes by the name carnation, which, believe it or not, means "fleshlike").

But pink as the name of a color is here to stay. M and Victoria's Secret are going to see to that.

After all, pink is the new black.

(Or is black the new pink? I can never keep that straight.)

For an extremely in-depth and infinitely more scholarly look at the history of pinkie, check out this 2008 post from Anatoly Liberman at the Oxford University Press Blog.
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