Defining the pink by Annie Mollard-Desfour
Words and expressions involving colour nod to the social sensitivities of an era; a culture; a mind set. This is what fascinates me: the usage, connotations and symbolic value attributed to colours and the varying shades thereof. My appraisal of pink, via books and in words – especially in the dictionary entitled Le Rose – has allowed me to explore its ambiguities, intransience, evolution and undoubted surprise factor of this colour.
Pink is full of ambiguity. This is an elusive colour: for physicists pink is red-dominant, « the bastard child of triumphant red » in Jean Ray’s eyes (« The pink terror », The last Canterbury tales, 1963), and Jean Ray adds that it is « born of incest where heaven and hell have played a role »!… With the pallor of white and an almost vibrant splash of red, occasionally slipping towards orange, yellow and violet, pink can be dawn or mist, blooming into peach, dog rose, tea-rose, fuchsia, tamarisk…, exploding with plump tones of aveline pink, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, candy pink, sugar-almond pink, marshmallow, grenadine…, evolving into rosewood, blotting paper pink, baby pink,..., and then into piglet pink, shrimp pink, flamingo pink, salmon pink, doll pink… becoming Schiaparelli and Tiepolo pink, with shades of incarnate pink and flesh pink, nymph pink, buttock pink, cheek pink…, bursting into Indian pink, Turkish pink, Tyrian pink, then paradise pink, candid pink, innocent pink, make-love-to-me-darling pink and even shocking pink!…
All these words to describe the different shades of pink in the XXth century and our modern times also nod to usage and codes. Just like our expressions and phrases: seeing life through rose tinted glasses/tickled pink, in the pink, ‘bibliothèque rose’ (French books for children), pink novels (sentimental novels for women), Pink Empress, baby pink, sugar-almond pink, ‘messagerie rose’ (French lonely hearts), ‘minitel rose’ (French erotic service)… Pink to signify happiness and pleasure, beauty and youth, femininity, romance and candour, but also naked flesh, nudity, eroticism – Rose-Eros! Eros is an anagram of rose … And let’s not forget pink socialism… The pink-toned skin of children, young girls and “girls in bloom”, the feminine form, of sex and intimacy, of baby clothes, and flesh coloured undies; the vichy pink of schoolgirl gingham chosen by B.B for her marriage in 1958 to Jacques Charrier; tutu pink that, still in 1958 gave its name to ballets roses (underage girl ballet performances in France that ended in orgies) – a scandal back in the day; Barbie’s sexist pink, a doll shaped like a woman with exaggerated femininity; the downward pointing hot pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in Nazi camps to identify them as such, but which was inverted in the Nineties to become a symbol of gay pride. Pink has indicated issues regarding identity and gender: the pseudonym of Rrose Selavy (rose, c’est la vie; pink is life) used by Marcel Duchamp for his feminine alter-ego, a topic taken up by surrealist poet Robert Desnos in short poems packed with aphorisms, puns and spoonerisms – « Rrose Sélavy, Eros, is life »... and then by many other artists including, in particular, Gertrude Stein: Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose… ».
A place of ambivalence, like Russian dolls, pink conceals and reveals another kind of pink, sugary, soppy, innocent, the pink of carnal seduction, stinging, perverse, eccentric, shocking, playful. The pleasure of words that these shades of pink and the images and memories they evoke are palpable.
And as 2016 comes to a close, along comes a surprise – a neon pink, the pinkest pink in the world! « The world’s pinkest Pink » has been created and commercialised by Stuart Semple and is available to all…except Anish Kapoor who obtained the exclusivity of Vantablack, the blackest black. « Pink » versus « Vantablack ». Pink versus black to be in the pink!
Linguist and CNRS semiologist, Annie Mollard-Desfour is the author of a number of dictionaries of words and expressions relating to colour…including Le Rose (pink)!