by Kathy Wolfe

Tidbits is tickled pink to bring you these facts about one of our favorite colors.

Pink is a secondary color, meaning that it’s made by mixing two colors together, (in this case, red and white), as opposed to primary colors, which cannot be created by mixing other colors. There are hundreds of shades of pink, including rose, fuchsia, salmon, hot pink, coral, carnation, bubble gum, and amaranth.

      A Greek botanist created the word in the late 17th century, naming it after the ruffle-edged carnations of the genus Dianthus, flowers known as “pinks.”    In the 18th century, pink became a fashionable color among the aristocracy and symbolized class and luxury.

    Pink dye comes from the roots of the rose madder plant (Rubia tinctorum), a plant native to the Mediterranean. The cochineal, a South American insect, is also a vital source of red dye, with carminic acid extracted from the females and treated to form the carmine pigment.

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What makes shellfish pink? The shells and flesh of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters contain a natural pink carotenoid pigment called astaxanthia, which turns pink when heated. Prior to cooking, their shells are a blue-green, but the pigment is released when boiled or steamed. This same carotenoid is what colors the meat of salmon.   

Folks have been using the phrase “in the pink” since the 16th century to indicate that things are going well and that all is good. In 1597, Shakespeare wrote in “Romeo & Juliet”: “I am the very pink of courtesy.” A 1720 play called “Kensington Gardens” used the phrase “Tis the pink of the mode, to marry at first sight.” The phrase came to be widely used to apply to a person’s health, perhaps because “rosy cheeks” indicated someone who was healthy and doing well.

•    Although we generally associate the color pink with femininity, that’s not always been so. Pink wasn’t used to denote the female gender until the 1940s. Prior to that, pink reflected masculinity. A 1918 publication called Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department stated: “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” In 1850, Queen Victoria’s portrait was painted with her seventh child, Prince Arthur, who was garbed in pink and white.

Novelist Jack London was among the first to use the phrase “seeing pink elephants” in his 1913 book John Barleycorn to describe hallucinating from the effects of alcohol.

• The fifth digit on the human hand is officially known as the digitus minimus manus, but is more commonly called the pinkie. This term has its origins in the Dutch word “pink,” which means “little finger.” There are nine muscles that control the pinkie. Did you know that for most people, it’s impossible to bend the pinkie independently without also bending the ring finger? That’s because the nerves for these two fingers are intertwined.     

Art enthusiasts are familiar with the 18th-century painting of a young girl known as Pinkie. The 11-year-old Sarah Moulton was painted by Thomas Lawrence in 1794 dressed in flowing white skirts tied with a pink sash, and wearing a pink bonnet. The portrait was commissioned by the child’s grandmother, who missed Sarah so much, she desired a full-length likeness to ease her loneliness. Sadly, Sarah passed away the following year. “Pinkie” is often paired with the portrait of a young boy known as “Blue Boy,” and many believe them to be works by the same artist. However, despite the similarities, “Blue Boy” was painted in 1770 by Thomas Gainsborough.

    Flamingos are a beautiful pink because of their diet. These striking birds dine on an algae that is rich in beta-carotenoids as well as on small crustaceans, mollusks, and insect larvae, who also consume that same algae. The bird synthesizes the carotenoid and the colorful plumage is the result. The baby flamingo enters the world with a whitish-grey color due to the lack of the carotenoids. And if an adult bird stops eating foods containing the pigment, new feathers would grow in without the pinkish hue. The tallest species of flamingo stands between 3.9 and 4.7 feet (1.2 to 1.45 m), and weighs up to 7.7 lbs. (3.5 kg).

London’s Financial Times newspaper was launched in January, 1888, one that focused on business and economic affairs. Five years later, in an attempt to distinguish itself from its competitor, the Financial and Mining News, the Financial Times began printing on pink paper. An added benefit was that the unbleached slightly-pink paper was a little cheaper than its white counterpart. It’s a practice that has continued for 130 years, as the Times is still pink, with their name synonymous with the color. One thing has changed, however. Today, the pink paper is more expensive, since it has to be dyed specially.

    The word “pinko” was coined in 1925 to describe those who were supportive of communism. The person defended a “lighter form of communism,” or socialism, as opposed to true believers who were described as “reds.” The term was commonly used during the Cold War, when political tension raged between the Soviet Union/Communist China and the United States.   

    Respondents to a survey about the symbolism of the color pink listed charm, politeness, sensitivity, tenderness, sweetness, childhood, femininity, joy, happiness and romance. In Korea, it’s the sign of trustworthiness. Believed to exude calmness, some prisons have painted the walls pink to reduce violent and unpredictable behavior of inmates.

    Since 1992, the National Cancer Society has used the pink ribbon as a symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, symbolizing support of those with the disease and to promote its awareness.

•    When Roger Walters, Syd Barrett, and Nick Mason formed the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965, they named their new group after two of their favorite American blues musicians, Pinkney “Pink” Anderson and Floyd Council.

Regular champagne turns into pink champagne with the addition of the skins of dark purple grapes during fermentation, or by adding a small amount of red wine.

During World War II, the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force painted more than a thousand of their Spitfire aircraft pink. It was very effective camouflage, as the color made it hard to spot the planes at sunrise and sunset and when there was cloud cover.