What does it mean “to pink” something, and how did the color become associated with Valentine’s Day?

You are minding your own business in the grocery store when — wham! Pink hearts and candies placed at eye level by merchants remind you that once again, Valentine’s Day is here.

Why pink? How did pink become so strongly associated with February 14, roses, and romance?

The word pink dates back to the 1570s, when “to pink” meant to create a small cut or perforation, such as on a decorated edge (think pinking shears).

The story of pink’s link to color is an incredible story of linguistic conversion. That’s the concise way to say the word started out as a verb, became a noun, and, after that, an adjective.

Let’s not forget that small but crucial part of your hand, the pinkie. Learn what it has to do with the color pink, here.

The Dutch associated pinck oogen, “small eyes,” with the small, delicate flowers of the Dianthus, whose petals look distinctly perforated or crimped. Common names for Dianthus include carnation and pink, which lead to pink’s association with two more ideas: the color of the flower and the idea of the flower as perfection. Perfection is what Shakespeare’s Mercutio is referring to in Romeo and Juliet when he says, “Nay, I am the very pink of curtesie.”

At the point where scholars pinpoint the first attribution of pink as a color, around 1681, people could not stop talking about it. In Elizabethan England, pink hose were all the fashion for men. Fortunately, Sumptuary Laws, which determined the color of clothing people wore by their social status, made pink available to both the upper and lower classes.

In the 1920s pink started to be used for the marketing of products for boys.  The color was considered appropriate for boys, full of energy, not yet mature enough for the full heat of the color red. Conversely, baby blue was associated with girls as a soft, mild color, and one strongly associated with the Virgin Mary. Post-WWII these associations switched, with pink directed at products for girls and blue for boys.

So why did pink become associated with Valentine’s Day? Our speculation concludes that a combination of pink as perfection, a tiny flower, and the term for crimping as on Valentine cards created an unstoppable combo.

What do you think? Is the pendulum of pink’s associations swinging back to masculinity? What other associations does pink inspire for you? Let us know.