or pink eye

[ pingk-ahy ]
/ ˈpɪŋkˌaɪ /
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noun Pathology.
a contagious form of acute conjunctivitis occurring in humans and certain animals: so called from the color of the inflamed eye.
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Origin of pinkeye

First recorded in 1785–95; pink1 + eye
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What is pinkeye?

Pinkeye is the common name for conjunctivitis and occasionally used as a slang term for other things.

Pinkeye is often spelled as two words: pink eye.

Where did the term pinkeye come from?

Pinkeye is a familiar name for conjunctivitis, or the inflammation of the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the eyes and lining the eyelids). It is a common viral or bacterial infection, affecting 3–6 million people in the U.S. alone each year. The name stems from the way the condition makes the eye look pink or red along with other symptoms of itchiness, watering, and swelling.

While pinkeye typically cures itself, antibiotics are sometimes necessary. It is often contagious, except when caused by allergens, passed directly from a person or from contaminated objects.

One common myth, popularized by the 2007 Seth Rogen comedy Knocked Up, claims that pinkeye is spread from fecal bacteria left on pillows from flatulence. Related myths include that the infection results from eye contact with the anus or semen during sex. The infection, rather, is principally caused by rubbing the eyes with hands carrying a certain virus or bacteria.

Occasional and unrelated senses of pinkeye include slang terms for “vagina” and “cheap red wine.” The “vagina” slang has been recorded since at least the early 1990s based on anatomical observations. The “wine” sense, extending to a “heavy drinker” or “binge-drinking,” dates back to Australian slang from the early 1900s into the 1970s.

How to use the term pinkeye

While the formal name may be conjunctivitis, many medical professionals refer to the condition as pinkeye. The term is also familiar to parents of and educational professionals working with school-aged children, who are instructed to stay home from school due to contagious pinkeye.

Pinkeye is also colloquially mentioned in contexts of vulgar humor (e.g., I’m gonna fart on your pillow and give you pinkeye).

More examples of pinkeye

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released prevention, diagnosis, and treatment tips for pink eye.”
—Madeline Morr, The Clinical Advisor, April 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use pinkeye in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for pinkeye

/ (ˈpɪŋkˌaɪ) /

Also called: acute conjunctivitis an acute contagious inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye, characterized by redness, discharge, etc: usually caused by bacterial infection
Also called: infectious keratitis a similar condition affecting the cornea of horses and cattle

Word Origin for pinkeye

C16: partial translation of obsolete Dutch pinck oogen small eyes
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for pinkeye

[ pĭngkī′ ]

acute contagious conjunctivitis
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.