Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Skinnymalinks vs skilligimink

Having just spent some time thinking about words, I was reminded of the phrase "sky-blue pink with a finny haddy border". I think I heard that phrase from either my mother or my grandmother, so assumed that it was a London phrase. So I trotted off across Google, detouring to wwwords, and found that in actual fact it was an American phrase that started off as just "sky-blue pink" (Quinion, 2005). Trust the Brits to embellish it in the 1930s :-)

But what I was struck by in Michael Quinion's work was a line from Howard Garis, the 1910 author of a children's book containing sky-blue pink "He splashed around and scattered the skilligimink color all over the kitchen, and when his mamma and Susie fished him out, if he wasn’t dyed the most beautiful sky-blue-pink you ever saw!" (2005). What struck me was that "skilligimink" seemed awfully close to skinnymalinks, an old Scots word referring to someone who was very, very thin (perhaps with faint modern overtones in these days of anorexics of being only as good as they should be).

World Wide Words Michael Quinion hadn't made the connection between skinnymalinks and skilligimink, I think: "Don’t ask me about skilligimink, by the way: Garis seems to have been the only person ever to use the word, and where it comes from is unknown". The two words seem too similar for skilligimink not to have been an eggcorn (a mis-heard or mispronounced word).

Interestingly, Michael Quinion quoted me on this in an emailer (n.d.):
Sammie and Susie Littletail, by Howard R Garis, 1910. Garis was a famous, and prolific, American children’s writer of the first half of the twentieth century. He invented Uncle Wiggily while working for the Newark News, and over four decades wrote one story a day for the paper. He also authored more than 30 stories about the adventures of Tom Swift under the pen name of Victor Appleton (a “house pseudonym” of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, under which other authors also wrote), and lots more under other names — Laura Lee Hope, Lester Chadwick, Roy Rockwood, Clarence Young — some 500 books in total. Skilligimink is a puzzling word that appears nowhere else; reader Sam Young suggests it might have been a mistake by Garis for the Scots skinnymalink for a thin or skinny person or animal (a skinnymalink tatie is a potato boiled in its own skin).
I am so famous :-)

Sam 


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