Poss. Ety. of "twink" [Was Re: Theriomorphism in a Los Angeles Gay Community]

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Feb 13 05:23:46 UTC 2010

In his 12,000-entry lexicon, Rodgers does not include any of the animal
terms allegedly in common use in today's L.A.  Interesting.

In my college days, _twink_ was used occasionally by heterosexual students
as a precise synonym for _fag_, i.e. as a broadly opprobrious rather than a
neutral, narrowly descriptive term.

The drunken rhyme may be relevant to the etymology of _twink_ because its
opening lines contain the phrase "little twink," a frequent opprobrious
collocation. The folklorist Alan Dundes referred to the whole rhyme in a
different context as "the standard folk parody of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little
Star,'" which seems to corroborate the appearance of the parody in the
several industrial journals cited by Google Books from the roughly fifteen
years before the present meaning of _twink_ is attested in print.   A
drunken parody is likely to be recited by semi-inebriated persons in bars -
including bars where, in the period ca1945-1960, "twinks," however defined,
were not always welcome. Muttered on its own, "What the hell you are I
think" could easily be misunderstood as an insinuation of homosexuality (or
many other things).

A derivation directly from the Hostess _Twinkie_ is of course possible, but
as a syn. of _twink_, _twinkie/y_ is not attested till considerably later.
Twinkies (rather like creampuffs in texture, _creampuff_ being a familiar
synonym for a weakling or sissy) had existed since 1933, but the Twinkie
website suggests that they didn't rise to popularity till the 1950s.

The only other plausible etymon that comes to mind is _Twinkletoes_, used as
a (usu. derisive) name for a (usu. clumsy) dancer. _Twink_ might conceivably
abbreviate this, but in that case one would expect it to be applied
especially to dancers, and of any sexual orientation. This conjectural usage
has never been current, so far as I know.

I believe that the conjunction of "What the hell you are I think" with the
Hostess Twinkie in the 1950s was sufficient and perhaps even necessary to
produce _twink_ in its homosexual senses.


On Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at stanford.edu> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Theriomorphism in a Los Angeles Gay Community
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Feb 12, 2010, at 8:49 AM, ronbutters at AOL.COM wrote:
> > 3. Bruce Rogers
> that's Rodgers
> > records TWINK in 1972 in his lexicon of queer slang. He calls it
> > "rare," but the listed meaning is quite close to the meaning that
> > has been VERY common in gay lingo since the 1980s.
> as i noted in my Language Log posting, OED has it from 1963 -- and
> that;s in an AmSp article on word uses, so it's surely earlier.
> but, yes, it seems to have really caught on in the 1980s (maybe a
> little bit earlier).
> arnold
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