Pretty In Pinks – I Could Just Dianthus

Let me give you my best Andy Rooney impression. Ahem…

“Ever wonder why we call light red pink? We don’t call light blue or light green anything but light blue or light green, unless you are one of those fancy pants designer people, which I am not.   If I call pink light red, people would look at me like I had my eyeballs painted on my forehead.    I think that we call light red pink just to confuse people, which in my opinion, just isn’t right.” Thanks, Andy.

As confusing as it might be that light red is called pink, there is an actual reason for this. The flower called pinks.   The color was named for the flower and the flower was named for a sewing term. I’ll pause and let you digest that one.

I don’t name the plants, I just question the sanity of the people who name them. So here it goes, the edges of the flowers are pinked (frayed), so they got called pinks. The pink variety were so popular at one point in time that their color just became synonymous with the name of the color. Kind of like we Google to search, Xerox to copy and use a Kleenex to blow our nose.

Anyhoo, pinks’ (the flower) latin name is Dianthus. It became known by the term pinks probably starting sometime around the 15th century, when it was popular due to the fact that it started out as a symbol of the Virgin Mary and went on to be a symbol of the not so virgin married. In fact, there was a popular ribald story about Maximilian of Austria being told to seek a dianthus (in this case a carnation) under the dress of his new bride.   They say he spent quite a lot of time looking for it, but I suppose he found some distractions under there while he was looking.

Pinks are also called carnations or Sweet Williams, though it has been my experience that we refer to a double dianthus as a carnation, the ground cover form of dianthus as Sweet Williams and the single, more upright form as pinks.   But that could just be where I live.

And, once again, while this flower is all about love and sex on the surface, the ancient Greeks had a interesting  but horrifying story about their origin. The story goes that Artemis, goddess of hunting, was startled by a shepherd boy playing a lyre and ripped his eyes out for it. *sidenote  -You know, why the Greeks and Romans followed their gods, I will never know. It seems to me it was the historical equivalent to making Manson, Gacy and Son of Sam exalted beings.   Anyway, shortly afterwards, she felt bad and gave him dianthus flowers for his eyes. Seriously, you can do anything you want and you give him flowers for eyes?  How about giving him back his eyes, for Christ sake?

Regardless of where they supposedly come from and what effect they have had on the color term etymology, they make a lovely edition to a container or a flower bed. “And if you asked me, I think we all might be better off calling the color light red. After all, it would only be the right term.” Thanks Andy.   But I will still stick with pink.

10 thoughts on “Pretty In Pinks – I Could Just Dianthus
  1. Kay-Jay on

    Thanks!! I’ve always wondered why they call them “Pinks” when they come in so many different colors. Great fun history lesson.


  2. Great explanation of the Colour, and flower pink. I never would have guessed. Light red indeed!


  3. Linguists spend a lot of time studying why we don’t consider pink a shade of red, but do consider sky blue a shade of blue —
    Turns out it varies by language, in fairly consistent ways. In Japanese, for example, pink IS considered a shade of red, and actually green is also considered a shade of blue. There are even some languages which consider ALL colors as either shades of white or black.


    Hanna Reply:

    That was an absolutely fascinating read. I never would have thought about it if you hadnot pointedit out. Thanks for the brain workout. 🙂


  4. John Hric on

    Hello Hanna,

    So is there any ancient or even new mythology that guides us on the dangers of shearing pinks with pinking shears ?

    I think I will continue to grow them for the shear enjoyment and hope to view them with orbs unmodified and un-substituted by any vengeful and regretful goddess.

    what the heck is this pink afterglow….. ? ? ? ? Oh this is just rosy !


  5. can you imagine having pink eyes…not the disease, but pinks for eyes…i am with you, why did she not just give him his eyes back? anyways…mine are pink/purple and red/white down here (NC)…they have be growing as perennals, though they were sold as annuals…what a treat, they stay green all winter too. very nice to see a periodic bloom when it gets a bit warm…enjoy!
    .-= kate the kid´s last blog ..the post grad let down =-.


  6. I didn’t know why pinks were called pinks although now it seems perfectly logical. Now I feel that I have learned something today (I always tell myself that browsing other gardening blogs is instructive and today it is!) but what I haven’t learned is how to grow dianthus in my heavy clay soil which just rots the roots of every pink I buy so that they never survive the winter.
    .-= Allotment Blogger´s last blog ..Allotment crops and planting 23 May =-.


  7. Annikki on

    Hmmm… Artemis in the Greek mythos is Diana in the Roman mythos… so there’s the source of the name “dianthus” as well? 🙂


  8. gus on

    As a combined word geek and gardener, Thank you for today’s post. I had wondered why they were called pinks. When I read “sewing term” it came to me!! We, in Upstate NY, use the same terms you described for each form.


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