Monday, 2 January 2017

Sky-blue pink with a Finny Haddy Border

My Mother's family - through my grandfather - has strong connections to Gateshead, bringing with it a rich heritage of Geordie language and aphorisms.

One aphorism is that of - when, as a child, asking a question - having an adult trip off the tongue "Sky blue pink with a finny haddy border" instead a more realistic answer. Hilarious to the adult, bewildering to the child, who then had to try to work it out with insufficient information.

As I have recalled this phrase, I have tried to find the origins of it, but the interweb doesn't provide many solutions.

It appears that the "sky-blue pink" part may be American in origin (see my post on this here), but the "finny haddy border" is, I think, all Geordie. Michael Quinion suggests this is because "finny addy [sic] is a corruption of finnan haddock, a type of cold-cured smoked fish" (Quinion, n.d.). Michael suggests that "finnan" is a softening of Findon, over the Scottish border, where the haddock referred to came from.

(I also wonder if Michael Quinion has recorded this as "finny addy" because of the Geordie habit of dropping aitches). I think I have also heard this as "finny hanny", not "finny addy". Of course, this change may well have come from elision, corruption, eggcorns, my mishearing or simply the Geordie habit of rhyme and rhythm.

"Quote, Unquote" radio show host Neil Rees in his book "Oops, Pardon, Mrs Arden!" also records the saying as 'haddy', and seems to imply that the phrase is has been common in UK English for some time (2001, p. 173):
Sky blue pink with a finny haddy border. Fobbing-off phrase. 'This was my mother's invariable answer to any question when we were children' - Julie Hickson (2000). Compare 'sky-blue tail', 'bottom pink' and 'little thin flowery border' under NEAT BUT NOT GAUDY. Marjorie Wild, Devon recalled. (2000) sky-blue-pink' and 'sandy-grey-russet' as nonsense descriptions. As a small child, when I asked an aunt what was the colour of something, she would teasingly reply, 'sky-blue scarlet, the colour of a mouse's fart' - to the annoyance of other adults - I have never heard this from anyone else" and have no idea whether or not it was my aunt's original' - Mrs J. Jones, Shropshire (1993). Well, Partridge/Slang has sky-blue pink' for 'colour unknown or indeterminate', since about 1885. Casson/Grenfell has, in answer to the question, 'What shall I wear?' - Sky blue pink.' (Rees, 2001, p. 173).
Partridge, the UK slang tome, does indeed have sky-blue pink defined as "Jocular c.p. for colour unknown or indeterminate: since ca 1885" (1961) which does not imply US origin, while Dalzell and Victor have "noun an unknown, indeterminate or fantasy colour. Jocular UK, 1942" (2008, p. 589). That earliest evidence date that Dalzell and Victor record (1942), seems very late to me when Partridge has 1885.  

Michael Quinion thought that the origins of phrase had come into UK English from American English, where it can be found in the US literature from 1881 onwards (n.d.). Quinion, Dalzell and Victor all seem to think that this phrase crossed the Atlantic during or after WW2. However, in my Mother's family, the use seems much more embedded than that, particularly since they moved to London in the mid-1930s, and this is a phrase most commonly used by her older brother who would have heard it from our Geordie relatives before the family came south.

I have ordered a copy of Casson and Grenfell's "Nanny Says" (though I think this only illustrates the "sky-blue pink" portion of the saying). However, it may shed more light on the issue.

And whether is is "Sky blue pink with a finny haddy border" or "Sky blue pink with a finny hanny border".

Fascinating, trying to work out where things come from.


  • Casson, Sir Hugh & Grenfell, Joyce (1987). Nanny Says. UK: Souvenir Press Ltd
  • Dalzell, Tom & Victor, Terry (2008). The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. UK: Routledge.
  • Quinion, Michael (2005). SKY-BLUE PINK. Retrieved 9 June 2016 from
  • Quinion, Michael (n.d.). Sky-blue pink. Retrieved 9 June 2016 from
  • Partridge, Eric (1961). The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang (combined 2 volume abridged version by Jaqueline Simpson). UK: Routledge.
  • Rees, Nigel (2001). Oops, Pardon, Mrs Arden!: An Embarrassment of Domestic Catch Phrases. UK: Robson Books (p. 173)

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