Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

In The Pink

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 21, 2011

The expression in the pink paints a pleasant, positive picture, doesn’t it?  It suggests healthy babies and cute little girls in frilly dresses and flowers that bloom in early May.  If someone is in the pink it’s understood that the person is in good health.  If something is in the pink it’s understood that it’s operating optimally.

Sandra Guy wrote an article for the Chicago Sun-Times that was published on November 8, 2002 entitled, “Field’s Makeover Begins With A Little Rouge.”  This is what she had to say about the redesign of the Marshall Field’s store on State Street in Chicago:

In September 1999, French luxury goods group LVMH bought a two-thirds stake in London-based Thomas Pink, a name taken from a late 18th century Mayfair tailor who made gentlemen’s riding jackets. (Anyone who could afford one was said to be “in the Pink.”)

On March 8, 1951 the Palm Beach Post published an advertisement hailing the benefits of a product known as Hadacol.  It claimed to relieve lack of energy brought on by a lack of vitamins B1, B2, Niacin and Iron.  Officer Jimmy Kilroy of 1153 Belden Avenue in Chicago, Illinois was quoted in the advertisement and an impressive photograph of this former prizefighter and Chicago police officer.  The headline read:

Policeman Back In The Pink Again — Says He’s The “Kilroy of Old”

At the turn of the century, the Toledo Bee newspaper published an article on November 14, 1901 about the upcoming prize fight between the champion, James J. Jeffries managed by William Brady and trained by Billy Delaney, and Gus Ruhlin, known as the “Akron giant” managed by Billy Madden and trained by Henry “Pop” Blanken.  The day before the fight, the odds were 10 to 4 in favour of the champion and fight fans from New York City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Seattle and Portland were making themselves heard as they journeyed into San Francisco where the event was scheduled to take place.  The headline read:

Just Before The Battle:  Both Jeffries And Ruhlin Are Reported In The Pink

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) referred to a specific Italian town he’d visited in 1845 thusly:

Of all the picturesque abominations in the World, commend me to Fondi. It is the very pink of hideousness and squalid misery.

The word “pink” became part of the English language in 1573 as the name of a plant, not a color.  Less than 25 years later, it was used to describe a level of courtesy as seen in William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and JulietAct II, Scene IV, published in 1597:

ROMEO
Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great; and in
such a case as mine a man may strain courtesy.

MERCUTIO
That’s as much as to say, such a case as yours
constrains a man to bow in the hams.

ROMEO
Meaning, to court’sy.

MERCUTIO
Thou hast most kindly hit it.

ROMEO
A most courteous exposition.

MERCUTIO
Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.

What Mercutio meant was that he was not just courteous, he was the epitome of courtesy.

And so it is easy to see that shortly after the word “pink” became part of the English language, it was associated with someone or something being in good shape or being the pinnacle (both good and bad) of what the word “pink” was describing.  The idea of being “in the pink” or ‘in the very pink’ doesn’t appear to have changed much over the past 400 or so years.

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