The Color Pink Wasn’t Always Pink. It Used to Be a Rich Yellow
If you ever happen to find yourself back in the 17th century, and someone asks you to hand them the pink pigment, you’ll want to hand them the yellow pigment instead. What — is pink yellow now? Er, then? Then-now? (Time travel is confusing.) Yes and no — she was probably asking for pinke, a rich yellow color.
Pinke — which was sometimes spelled “pink,” as spelling was, uh, let’s say “fluid” until the late 1700s — was originally made from unripened buckthorn berries. The first recorded use of “pinke” as the name for this color was 1598.
Oddly enough, there wasn’t any conflict at this time — “pink” didn’t mean pink until the mid-to-late 1600s. (The first recorded use of this “pink” was in 1666.) So what’s the deal with the same name having two drastically different colors? The etymology for both versions of “pink” isn’t confirmed, but there are differing theories for the two different colors.
First, let’s talk about our pink, the pale red color. The story goes that Queen Elizabeth I loved carnations, which were also named “pinks” — but not for their color (which is pink), but for an alternate definition of “pink” meaning notched. The petals of the carnations were “pinked,” hence the name. Linguists believe that as carnations became more popular (as did many things favored by royalty, even surgeries), the meaning of “pink” evolved to refer to the bright color of the flowers.
As for pinke, its believed origin doesn’t have such royal roots. Instead, it’s believed the word comes from the German word pinkeln. And what does that word mean? Surely something beautiful, like the yellow of the sun, or perhaps a beautiful yellow flower? Sorry to disappoint — but pinkeln is a verb. Namely, to piss. Yep.
While the name “pinke” is still occasionally used today — mostly by artists and printers — it’s more commonly called “stil de grain yellow,” which started being used in the early 18th century.