a side note on twink

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 14 00:19:36 UTC 2010

Please forgive the longish post--at least, I deleted all the nested
replies. (Actually, I just started a new thread.)

I came across something that, I am sure, anyone who searched for Twink
already has seen.

Typographical Journal 22:2 (Feb 1903)

The use of Twink here is entirely unrelated, but one has to wonder if it
is not meant to be suggestive in the sense that "twink" was already in
the vernacular at the time--just not in the meaning that came up here.

The piece is a story of a daily named Twink. Well, not the entire
story--it's just about one episode. Nonetheless, it is about the Twink,
"probably the most conservative paper ever printed".

[Side note: At the bottom of p. 125/1, you'll find, "Colonel Burns'
'phone tinkled." A bit further, there is a line, "Here's the d--d fool
now." [single m-dash, not a double n-dash]]

But this is a completely off the wall example. I can come up with better
speculations than that! My point here is not so much to propose a
specific line of derivation of the "twink" slang term, but to reject the
idea that it is somehow derived from the Hostess Twinkie or even
"twinkletoes" (although I have heard this used as a sarcastic euphemism
*recently*, I doubt that the connection was made prior to
1963--http://bit.ly/c85Lhm). In fact, I believe, any of the derivative
lines below are far better candidates than the artificial creampuff
(besides, the common slur for homosexuals used to be--and still is, in
some parts of the world--"poof", not "puff"). [There are a number of
children's books 1893-1956 with Twinkletoes characters, not to mention a
short poem by AA Milne--yes, that one] As the term is now at least
partially derogatory, I am not afraid to trample over a couple cultural
stereotypes in getting to the point. Plus, there is now a 2001 novel
called Twink: Stories of a Young Gay Man.

Going back to 1780 (http://bit.ly/9FWKJV) and 1795
(http://bit.ly/cMVbUC) [and, of course, much further], "twink" is "the
motion of the eye; a moment, a very short space of time" and to to twink
is "to wink" (with some unidentified references to Shakespeare--I
presume, from Tempest or from TOTS--and Chaucer--for "twinkin"). The
same applies to "twinkle" and other variations and derivatives. Then, of
course, there is the verb "twinge" (pinch, among other
things)--although, the connection here may not be obvious--yet). In any
case, this places twink and twinkle among the oldest words in English
(if this even makes sense--the root is AS).

In 1888, it still means the same thing, connected to both wink and
twinkle, sparkle in the eye, etc.

But now there is also a second meaning (yes, "twinge"!)
twink (2) /v.t./, [Twinge.] To blame, to abuse, to find fault with.
/"I have been called away ten times, and shall be twinked if I do not
leave you." K??? Carter; Letters, i, ?90./

In a 1903 dictionary that I failed to record, the former meaning is
listed as obsolete or archaic. But other dictionaries of the period have
no such problems.

That's at least three different original meanings that could have been
transformed into a euphemism (wink, twinkle, twinge). And "a moment in
time" as well! (Suffolk Words and Phrases, 1826)

> Twink. An abbreviation, I suppose, of twinkling. It is used to denote
> the smallest imaginable portion of time. "In a twink"--is more
> emphatic than in a trice, in a jiffy, in a crack, and such phrases.
> Nares explains it in its obvious sense of "the wink, or sudden motion
> of an eye or eye-lid. /Twinkling/ is now substituted for it"--
>         Then in a twink she won me over to her love, /T. of the Sh./
> ii. 1.
>                              ------him a pereless prince,
>         Sonne to a king, and in the flower of youth,
>         Even with a /twinke/ a senseless stocke I saw.
>                                              /Ferrex and Porrex./ O.
> Pl. i. 148.
> We say /twink/ for twinkle. "The stars twink." As a verb we also have
> /squink/ and /snap/, to denote the act of nictitation. See those words.

If there is any WH Auden connection in "starkle, starkle...", surely it
would be to Gorboduc and Porrex!

There are two other seemingly random hits. One is a verse on what a
housekeeper supposedly managed to get from "twenty pecks of hops":

The Sisters' Year (1868)
> Twenty quarts of twinkledy-twink,
> And twenty quarts of very good drink,
> And twenty quarts of good lie-by,
> And twenty quarts of drink when you're dry.

The other one appears to be from The Sandman play (not entirely
sure--only snippet is available from a 1952 collection--p. 299).
> Starlets (Trip on to the stage, join hands to form ring and dance):
>         Twinkledy, twinkledy, twink!
>         We're just as gay as you think!
>         We're starlets, you know, ...

GB has only one edition which it dates as 1952 (http://bit.ly/c85Lhm).
Harvard Libraries has another similarly titled volume from 1910, but it
has a different editor. But, given that line in *contemporary* context,
one cannot help but wonder. I can drop by Gutman next week and find the
precise play in question. (If someone beets me to it, so much the
better.) Another play from in a similar 1942 book (but titled "Twenty
five royalty-free plays for children" instead of "fifty") has characters
named Twink, Squink and Blink.

Then, of course, there is the Twink! Twink! nursery rhyme that's all but
disappeared since the 1950s. (I wonder why ;-)

Yet, there was no "odd" connotation to Twink in 1942--at least, not in
popular culture and published literature--when a story appeared in
Harper's, with a female character named Twink (and at least one sentence
with both Twink and queer in it). Then also as "little girl's name" (ten
years old) in a William Saroyan story Mama I Love You (1956), as the cat
"Mr. Twink" (Freda Mary Hurt) throughout the 1950's and early 60s, not
to mention The Big Book of Twink (Robert Shure, 1958/9). In fact, there
are dozens of books with characters (frequently, but not always, female)
named Twink between 1862 and 1962--none with any homosexual
connotations. During the same period, "twink" was a fairly common male
nickname that also appears to have been unrelated to homosexuality. In
the early 1930s (several hits, including this one: http://bit.ly/9IAq7j)
there was a TWINK trademark.
> TWINK . . Newest Star in Food Field Idea Is So Simple That Everyone
> ... This
> company is the Twink Products Corporation, and its product is called
> Twink.

Then, there is this from N&Q, 1886
> In this neighbourhood a chaffinch is called a /twink/. I believe that
> the same word is used also in Somersetshire. What is the original of
> the word? I it used elsewhere?

This is followed by a response.
p. 117
> Twink (7th S. ii. 49).--A chaffinch is called a "twink" from the sharp
> cry of "twink, twink," which is it utters when alarmed. This bird has,
> indeed, "a large commodity of names," all expressive of its brisk and
> lively habits, or of other characteristics. In adition to the above it
> has been variously called pink, the spink, the shilfa, the skelly or
> shelly, the shell-apple, the chaffy, the boldie, the beechfinch, and
> the "which-do-you." It is also called the bachelor finch, because the
> males separate as the winter approaches, and go in distinct
> flocks.       John Churchill Sikes.
> 21, Endwell Road, Brockley, S.E.
> ...
> In Derbyshire the chaffinch is commonly called a "spink." This is also
> the name here, but not so generally used. Both "twink" and "spink" may
> probably be derived from the sharp metallic note of the
> bird.                 Thos. Ratcliffe
> Worksop

I skipped two other responses from Chester and Derbyshire which both
substantially repeat the line about the bird's call and a secondary name
of "spink".

Then another response.
p. 213
> Twink (7th S. ii. 49).--In my boyhood I never heard the chaffinch
> called by any other name than /tink/. According to the glossaries at
> my command, it is known by the names of /pink/ in Leicester and
> Somerset shires, as well as about Corringham, Manley, and Rugby;
> /pink-twink/ in Somersetshire; /spink/ in Cumberland, Derbyshire,
> Hampshire, Leicestershire, and Yorkshire (see also Bailey's 'Dict.,'
> ed. 1726); /tink/ in Cornwall and parts of Derbyshire; and /twink/ in
> Somersetshire and the extreme south-east of Devonshire. /Pink/ and
> /cuckoo/, with their variants, belong apparently to the same category,
> as ther are the words the birds so called are respectively supposed to
> utter. See "Chaffinch," 'Penny Cyclo.,' vi. 460.
>     Wm. Pengelly.
> Torquay

So now there is also a finch named "twink", but also known as "spink",
"pink" and "which do you". Don't know about anyone else, but it sounds
suggestive to me. There is a 1952 reference to "twink" bird call as well
(http://bit.ly/b0AguW). And, of course,

The Pall Mall Magazine, 1895
> The Chaffinch.
> Twink, twink, twink ! sounds on each side of you as you walk along
> some lane bordered with trees. There is the chaffinch, one of the
> blithest and most handsome of the whole finch family, with his
> reddish-brown back, yellow-green hinder parts, and white cheeks and
> ear-covers. As to the nest--well, it has long been a country saying
> "as neat as a chaffinch's" nest. ...
> The merry call of twink, twink!--or, as some render it, spink, spink,
> spink!--and the following song of toll, toll, pretty little dear ! is
> one of the signs that spring will shortly fall into summer.

If that's not enough, consider the 1865 Etymological Dictionary (vol. 3,
p. 435).

Following the entry for "twink" that substantially reflects what I
already covered, there is an entry for "twire" that I want to reproduce
in full:

> *To Twire.*  To peep, glance, twinkle.
>         "I saw the went that /twired/ and twinkled at thee."--B. & F.
> Formed on the same plan with /twinkle/, from the representation of a
> twittering sound. It is used by Chaucer for the twittering of the bird
> which "seeketh on morning only the wood, and /twireth/--with her swete
> voise:" dulci voce /susurrat/.--Boeth. iii. met. 2.
> Fr. /tirelire/ represents the singing of the lark; Du. /tireliren/,
> It. /turlurullare/, to chirp and warble like birds.--Fl. E.
> /tooraloora/ as the burden of a song represents the accompaniment of
> music. Hence Du. /in zijn tureluur zijn/, to be in good humour. N.
> /tur/, noise, sport, joyous life; /ture Jul/, to keep Christmas. Du.
> /turen/, Bav. /zwiren/, to spy. MHG. /zwiren/, to wink, to glance, was
> proverbially used as synonymous with /zwinken/. Ich /zwiere/ swa man
> /zwinket/ wider mich : I twire at him who twinks at me. /Zwinken/ soll
> gên /zwieren/ gân : a twink shall go in return for a twire, tit for tat.

All this is mere speculation, but I'll leave that last quoted line as
the punchline.


PS: On the other hand, the role-playing game use of twink--an unbalanced
character with an exaggerated single characteristics (esp. attack
skill--see UD for details)--does appear to be more closely related to
twinkies. For one, at least in some circles, RPG players have long been
known as "twinkies", largely for their consumption of large quantities
of the worthless snack (at least, that was the use that I coined in
1984-5 at MIT--and, apparently, it has been around since, as I've met
current MIT RPG players who still hear/use the term and resent it; no
idea if it has merged with other meanings of twink or twinkie). I
suppose, this is not as long as the gay use of "twink", but
homosexuality has a far longer and more diverse history than RPGs.

PPS: Yet one more--also consider the possibility that "twink" might have
come from "twin". The idea, perhaps, is to see the "twinks" as grooupies
that follow their partners in some sense. The reason I am saying that is
because we have a *stated* example of someone coining the term "twinker"
complete with the verb "twink"! Allow me to channel Rudy Rucker.

> I sometimes study authors' writing or artists' works so intensely that
> I begin to imagine that I can think like them. I even have a spacial
> word I made up for this kind of emulation; I call it /twinking/. To
> twink someone is to simulate them internally. Putting it in an older
> style of language, to twink someone is to let their spirit briefly
> inhabit you. A twinker is, if you will, like a spiritualistic medium
> channeling a personality.
> Over the years I've twinked my favorite writers, scientists,
> musicians, and artists, including Robert Sheckley, Jack Kerouac,
> William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Frank Zappa, Kurt Godel, Georg
> Cantor, Jorge Luis Borges, Edgar Allan Poe, Joey Ramone, Phil Dick,
> and Peter Bruegel. The immortality of the great ones results from
> faithful twinking by their aficionados.

Interestingly, Rucker's "twinking" resembles the process that Tom Kuhn
demanded from his students and other historians of science before
analyzing historical documents. One cannot meaningfully analyze
Aristotle's science without immersing himself fully in the intellectual
environment as it existed in Aristotle's time--not as it is today. In
Rucker's terms, in order to be a successful historian of science, Kuhn
demanded twinking.

If Rucker could coin such a term for one purpose, what would have
stopped someone from coining a similar term for another?

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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