CLOSE
Original image
iStock

Pink Used To Be Yellow (No, Really)

Original image
iStock

Look up the word pink in the dictionary, and you’ll probably find a lot more definitions than you might have expected.

As well as being the name of a pale red color, a pink can be a small flat-bottomed sailing vessel, a juvenile salmon, a chaffinch, a decorative hole or eyelet, a stab with a dagger, a foppish dandy, a tiny fragment, and (thanks to Chicago’s Pinkerton detective agency) a private eye. Besides that, as a verb pink can be used to mean “to narrow” (especially the eyes), “to wink or blink,” “to make a metallic rattling noise,” “to apply rouge,” and “to attach or cut a decorative trim” (which is why scissors with jagged blades are called pinking shears).

But of all the word’s meanings, the oldest on record is one that appears in only the most comprehensive dictionaries: pink used to be yellow. Or rather, pink used to be the name of a murky yellow-green color—or, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains it: "A yellowish or greenish-yellow lake pigment made by combining a vegetable colouring matter with a white base, such as a metallic oxide."

A “lake” pigment like this is an organic dye or artist’s pigment made insoluble by combining the organic material required with a metallic compound. (In this context, lake has nothing to do with bodies of water, but instead comes from lac, a dark red resinous substance produced by certain trees.) It just so happens that the pigment the name pink was originally attached to was made from vegetable matter that created a murky greenish-yellow tinge.

In this sense, the word pink dates back to the early 1400s at least, and in fact, it wasn’t until the mid-17th century that pink came to refer to the pale reddish color it does today. But why the change in meaning? And why, for that matter, name either color pink at all?

Admittedly, no one is entirely sure of the answer to either of those questions, but one very plausible theory is that the name pink (for obvious yellow-colored reasons) might have derived from an older German word, pinkeln, meaning “to urinate.” This earlier, murky-yellow version of pink has never actually disappeared from the language, and remains in place in various forms in the niche vocabularies of printers, designers, and artists and watercolorists especially. But the reddish version of pink has long since replaced it in everyday use—and the reason for that change might lie with one of the most famous figures from English history.

The earliest likely record of the pale-red pink we know today comes from the English Restoration dramatist James Howard, who described a pair of pink gloves in the script to his comedy The English Monsieur in 1666. For Howard to use the word in this context so visibly, we can presume that the pale-red version of pink was already fairly well established in the language by then, suggesting that its origins likely lie in the early 17th century—and the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

It’s believed that Elizabeth I was particularly fond of carnations, or “pinks,” a pale-red flower in the Dianthus genus probably named after its slightly notched or “pinked” petals. (Though now cultivated or dyed in many colors, carnations were originally pink.) Elizabeth’s fondness for the carnation—traditionally considered a symbol of chastity, marriage, and a love of God—helped make these flowers very popular in the late Tudor period, and carnations were grown and sold all across Elizabethan England for use in everything from perfume-making to flavoring wine. It’s presumed that it was this widespread popularity that helped to establish the flowers’ bright pink color with the name pink, and thereby forced the older yellow-colored version of the word to the etymological sidelines.

Was Queen Elizabeth’s fondness for carnations really enough to permanently change the meaning of the word pink? It’s certainly possible—and it remains perhaps the most plausible explanation we have for one of the strangest changes in meaning in the dictionary.

Original image
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
arrow
Art
‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
Original image
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

Original image
“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
arrow
Art
Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
Original image
“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios