What does it mean “to pink” something, and how did the color become associated with Valentine’s Day?

pink flowers

You are minding your own business in the grocery store when — wham! Pink hearts and candies placed at eye level by merchants remind you that once again, Valentine’s Day is here.

Why pink? How did pink become so strongly associated with February 14, roses, and romance?

The word pink dates back to the 1570s, when “to pink” meant to create a small cut or perforation, such as on a decorated edge (think pinking shears).

The story of pink’s link to color is an incredible story of linguistic conversion. That’s the concise way to say the word started out as a verb, became a noun, and, after that, an adjective.

Let’s not forget that small but crucial part of your hand, the pinkie. Learn what it has to do with the color pink, here.

The Dutch associated pinck oogen, “small eyes,” with the small, delicate flowers of the Dianthus, whose petals look distinctly perforated or crimped. Common names for Dianthus include carnation and pink, which lead to pink’s association with two more ideas: the color of the flower and the idea of the flower as perfection. Perfection is what Shakespeare’s Mercutio is referring to in Romeo and Juliet when he says, “Nay, I am the very pink of curtesie.”

At the point where scholars pinpoint the first attribution of pink as a color, around 1681, people could not stop talking about it. In Elizabethan England, pink hose were all the fashion for men. Fortunately, Sumptuary Laws, which determined the color of clothing people wore by their social status, made pink available to both the upper and lower classes.

In the 1920s pink started to be used for the marketing of products for boys.  The color was considered appropriate for boys, full of energy, not yet mature enough for the full heat of the color red. Conversely, baby blue was associated with girls as a soft, mild color, and one strongly associated with the Virgin Mary. Post-WWII these associations switched, with pink directed at products for girls and blue for boys.

So why did pink become associated with Valentine’s Day? Our speculation concludes that a combination of pink as perfection, a tiny flower, and the term for crimping as on Valentine cards created an unstoppable combo.

What do you think? Is the pendulum of pink’s associations swinging back to masculinity? What other associations does pink inspire for you? Let us know.


  1. Mr. Fluffy -  June 4, 2014 - 7:26 am

    Interesting article but it made me forget why I used to like pink. (Ok I liked pink just a little bit).

  2. Shawn -  February 25, 2014 - 4:25 pm

    I don’t agree. The color blue has always been assosiated with the male child. Even before different religions coalesed people revered the sky (blue and the gods) And the most important gender in the tribe or clan was the male. Hence blue for boys. It wasn’t until recent times (1800′s) that a color should be given to girls. Pink was dainty and of course smelled nice (flowers) so that color was chosen. Don’t ask me be whom, maybe a card company or dress maker. That’s what happened.

  3. Rebecca Nicholson -  February 13, 2014 - 10:14 pm

    That’s interesting that the colours of pink and blue for girls and boys were switched. Who’s to say what is feminine and masculine then. I think pink and Valentine’s as well as the colour red are so associated because red and pink (being a lighter shade of red in essence) that the whole imagery of the holiday is love and hearts and those colours are what make them subjects. So it is certainly fitting and so is the interesting etymology of it.

  4. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 11, 2013 - 4:37 am

    I wonder why the colors flipped.
    I’m a girl and my absolute favorite color is aqua green. That’s a combination of light blue and light green, with a little more green added. It’s so beautiful. I also like sea green and lime green. Yeah, I like the color green. Pink, not so much. It seems like a “girly girl” color and I’m not a girly girl. (Although I’m not a tomboy either…somewhere in the middle.) Minecrafters forever! :D

  5. Jonel -  February 25, 2011 - 10:01 am

    Real Mean wears pink!!!!!

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    [...] is a vessel for the use of holding ink — with the other writing pedantic or ostentatious in bright pink. — ‘President please’ help us learn em something — [...]

  7. alohahaha -  February 17, 2011 - 11:38 am

    I know more boys that favor pink than girls and more girls that favor blue than boys! They shouldn’t assaciate pink with female! I know more girls that like sea green and red and violet. They should make things rainbow so everyones happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. catherine -  February 16, 2011 - 3:10 am

    Interesting…. Anyway, I do not see my husband wearing pink. But if the had the idea of playing a funny clown maybe pink would be the right color. Me, I am not crazy about this but I really like Pink…
    Have a nice day!

  9. lindsay -  February 14, 2011 - 7:39 pm

    i know a few boys that LOVE the color pink

  10. nciole -  February 9, 2011 - 2:32 pm

    great stuff thxs reminds me of my bf when he wanted to have some “fun” on valentine day

  11. nciole -  February 9, 2011 - 2:31 pm

    tihs in formation sucks

  12. nciole -  February 9, 2011 - 2:30 pm


  13. Michellle -  February 9, 2011 - 10:22 am

    My ex boyfriends fav. color was hot pink <3
    So is mine.
    He had almost everything in pink.It was kinda of a turn on (;

  14. Leslie Nivens -  February 9, 2011 - 8:16 am

    Reply to Alice Almeda–talk about odd!! Your description of yourself exactly fits me! Nurse, Scrabble, Bible study et al. Hard to believe!

  15. Wait for it.............MOO goes the chicken! -  February 9, 2011 - 7:35 am

    Jem on February 9, 2011 at 12:47 am
    Many are asking on this as to why pink was a boys colour, and blue a girls. This is just my opinion, I don’t want it to seem as if I’m trying to shove it down your throat or something. I think that blue was associated with girls because, as many would agree, that blue is a calming colour, not associated with hate or anger. Pink, on the other hand, is basically a pale red, red being a colour many group with anger and hate, hence the ‘pale red’ being masculine, and the blue being feminine.

    You make a really good point. Plus my two baby cousins(both boys And are only 2 and 5 months old) Love the color pink for some reason. We have blue toys and blankets but they want what their older sister(my 5 year old cousin) has even if it is pink!

  16. Jem -  February 9, 2011 - 12:47 am

    Many are asking on this as to why pink was a boys colour, and blue a girls. This is just my opinion, I don’t want it to seem as if I’m trying to shove it down your throat or something. I think that blue was associated with girls because, as many would agree, that blue is a calming colour, not associated with hate or anger. Pink, on the other hand, is basically a pale red, red being a colour many group with anger and hate, hence the ‘pale red’ being masculine, and the blue being feminine.

  17. mr lucky -  February 8, 2011 - 1:08 pm

    has anyone informed Pink?
    she may be interested
    however, it’s quite unlikely
    she would change her name to
    Baby Blue

  18. A careless mans careful daughter. -  February 8, 2011 - 10:21 am

    My dad told me that you never date girls well in my case a boy near any day where gift giving was invold so you dont have to get the other person something and if they got you something then you wouldnt feel bad if you didnt get them anything……i may only be 17 but i think my dad is right….some people and in my case boys are drama!

  19. DIVVIE -  February 8, 2011 - 7:21 am

    I have always thought the RED was the color associated with Valentine’s day. Thanks for the clarification.
    Recently I was searching for a pair of scissors and found pinking shears that had once belonged to my Mom. I had always wondered why these were called pinking shears. Once again, thanks for the information.

  20. Boo Boo :) -  February 8, 2011 - 4:57 am

    Pink is good.

  21. nawmu -  February 7, 2011 - 11:04 pm

    well..red is for love of husband and wife..
    white is for love of brothers and sisters…
    so pink is for my love to someone in between red and white…
    Happy valentine day!

  22. Lisa -  February 7, 2011 - 10:39 pm

    I once read that in the middle ages boys were associated with blue, the color of heaven, so that God could keep them safe. Girls were considered of the earth, pink (seems like it should have been brown,) and were less valuable so didn’t need God’s protection. Or maybe that was some feminist interpretation. Sounded plausible though.

  23. Ruth -  February 7, 2011 - 9:00 pm

    Also, I was going through my husband’s family keepsakes yesterday and I ran across his father’s crib card, strangely enough. He was born in 1923, and the baby…wore blue. Hmmm.

  24. Ruth -  February 7, 2011 - 8:56 pm

    If this is true about boys wearing pink and girls wearing blue, why are the famous paintings by Thomas Lawrence, “The Boy Blue” (1770) and “Pinkie” (1794) of a boy and girl, respectively?

  25. :{Dabc -  February 7, 2011 - 6:52 pm

    Wow never knew! :[D

  26. Lefty -  February 7, 2011 - 5:49 pm

    Amy-Lou I loved your story of that Friend you got the pink shirt!! I think Men look so hot when they wear pink shirts!! Especailly business suits and a nice pink tie!!

  27. Carrie -  February 7, 2011 - 5:00 pm

    Yes, the color was usually called “rose” before it was called “pink.”

    Disbelief and quasi-scientific studies be damned, pink and blue really did used to be switched in America, regardless of what you’ve failed to see in museums. It wasn’t quite as ingrained as the marketed-to-death pink and blue thing is now, but it was definitely the custom. In Europe, however, it was usually our familiar paradigm of pink for girls and blue for boys, and Europe had a whole lot of influence on a lot of Americans around, say, WWII. If this switch flips you out, don’t ever study fashion in the 1700s. Or birds.

    *I* think the color pink for Valentine’s Day doesn’t have anything to do with etymological roots about dainty eyes, but almost entirely the fact that marketing for Valentine’s Day took off after pink became associated with femininity, and before anyone really thought that women had to do anything for men on Valentine’s Day.

  28. Carrie -  February 7, 2011 - 4:39 pm


  29. pink hater -  February 7, 2011 - 3:49 pm

    pink is the worst color ever isabel rules i go for purple u go girlfriend

  30. isabel -  February 7, 2011 - 3:46 pm

    pink sucks pink is the worst color ever purple rules

  31. Sara Bee -  February 7, 2011 - 3:41 pm

    I seriously despise pink as a hue… that’s just me! I guess maybe it was salmon before it was named pink. Just a thought. Having printed this article out, this fresh fact is riding the school bus w/ me and my amazing red (and mature… wink wink) backpack tomorrow! “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round!!!”

  32. Desiree -  February 7, 2011 - 1:45 pm

    Pink used to be associated with men because men would wear red in battle (ie. the color of blood) and over time it would fade out to pink. So I don’t know if pink really had a name before because it would just be considered a shade of red (faded red) the same way we say light blue or sky blue.

  33. Not a perfect person -  February 7, 2011 - 1:33 pm

    Kit is wrong. Men aren’t perfect and neither are women!

  34. Amy -  February 7, 2011 - 1:22 pm

    My grandmother (born just before 1900) used to say that when she was younger, baby girls were dressed in blue and baby boys in pink. I don’t recall her saying when or why it changed.

  35. FellatioAbuser -  February 7, 2011 - 12:54 pm

    Guys that wear pink are homo.

  36. mark v -  February 7, 2011 - 12:33 pm

    Its not pink, its SALMON, okay!?

  37. Karen -  February 7, 2011 - 11:31 am

    Dianthus, or pinks, are also called Sweet William. After reading this article, it’s not so surprising that a pink flower was given a boy’s name!

  38. B -  February 7, 2011 - 11:26 am

    its my favourite colour ^^

  39. Vinishikha Bhandari -  February 7, 2011 - 5:55 am

    Im still not able to find out how is it associated with 14th feb?

  40. AMY-LOU -  February 7, 2011 - 4:54 am

    Hahaha. That reminds me of my friend. His buddys would always make fun of him because he wore pink sometimes so I went out and bought him a pink shirt that said keep laughing this is your girlfriends shirt. I really don’t know why but after that his friends stopped making fun of him when he wore pink.

  41. AMY-LOU -  February 7, 2011 - 4:49 am

    LOL! My two favorite colors aere lime green and hot pink!

  42. b jer -  February 7, 2011 - 3:51 am

    @ elizabeth
    pink was called “rose” before it became pink
    rosy cheeks

  43. KathyA -  February 6, 2011 - 9:46 pm

    Does “pink” perhaps come from the word “pinch”? I’ll have to go back to the dictionary page and find out.

  44. KathyA -  February 6, 2011 - 9:42 pm

    Blue was the color of a bright sunny day, the antithesis of a dark, eerie night. Blue was used to protect male babies from the influence of evil spirits which were in the night air. It was important that the males survived because they were need to inherit and to continue family lines. Girls, however, were considered expendable. Using pink as their color came along later when protection from ‘evil spirits’ was not so urgent, and they decided that it was only fair that girls had a color. European babies are generally ‘pinkish’ and the color pink was a sign of health (“in the pink”) as opposed to green or yellow (colors of illness) or white or black (colors of death), or purple which was too expensive of a dye, and so pink was easily accepted.

  45. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 6, 2011 - 9:28 pm

    There’s ample English-linguistic evidence that the insertion of the letter -N-, moderates, cutsey-fies, softens, or makes more-cosmetic than harsh–

    And so–
    PEAK:PINK (as a way of saying he was at the peak of his perfection but only cosmetically or by some desirability).

  46. Estreyah -  February 6, 2011 - 9:18 pm

    Does anyone know what the colour’s name was before being pink?

  47. Mahesh Dwivedi -  February 6, 2011 - 9:04 pm

    Interesting to know the switch over of pink’s association. For me pink associates to softness or immaturity as girls have.

  48. Fabian Miranda -  February 6, 2011 - 8:02 pm

    talvez podria ser que el pink sea llamado asi devido a el color rosa como la hermosa y tipica flor llamada rosa.

  49. Amrin -  February 6, 2011 - 7:40 pm

    to Elizabeth, before pink was called “pink”, I think it was called Rose

  50. Tammy D -  February 6, 2011 - 5:47 pm

    Um, maybe the color pink became so strongly associated with Valentine’s Day because many of the traditional carnations (pinks) often given on this day are pink. Also, pink as a color looks all right with red, as in red roses and red hearts, so it’s only logical that it’s a prominent color for Valentine’s Day. There are more pink carnations in flower shops and supermarkets than around Valentine’s Day than any other time of year. The flowers in the little photo at the top of the page are not traditional carnations, either, they are the tiny Dianthus that people often plant in their yards. The plants are about 5 inches tall and the flowers are about the size of a quarter.

  51. epicness -  February 6, 2011 - 4:45 pm

    i put the wrong name in

  52. episness -  February 6, 2011 - 4:44 pm

    im a boy and love pink and purple :)

  53. alice almeda -  February 6, 2011 - 4:38 pm


  54. CallMee -  February 6, 2011 - 4:18 pm

    well, thats reallly oddd ! ;

  55. SUPERBOWL | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 6, 2011 - 3:41 pm

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  56. anonymous -  February 6, 2011 - 3:39 pm

    When I was little, my mom always dressed me in blue dresses. Now I know why!

  57. PINK | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 6, 2011 - 3:27 pm

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  58. Hannah -  February 6, 2011 - 3:24 pm

    That’s a good point- references would be nice. Intriguing article, nonetheless. :)

  59. justme -  February 6, 2011 - 2:23 pm

    I find it hard to believe that boys wore pink and girls baby blue in the 1920′s. I don’t remember seeing fashion pictures with this boys in pink, but will research further as it’s intrigued me. I certainly don’t remember seeing baby clothes in pink for boys in museums. Why would it suddenly change? A bit more information would be good plus some photos. I guess men used to wear white make up and powdered wigs and tights in the 17th and 18th Centuries, which we wouldn’t entertain today so it might not be that unrealistic!

  60. poop -  February 6, 2011 - 2:19 pm

    Quite informative. I appreciate the work put into writing this article. Thank you to the writer of this article. Great job! I had been sitting on my sofa one day and suddenly thought to myself “I wonder where the word pink came from, and why it is used as a symbol for valentines day. How interesting!
    My questions have been answered!

    Thanks again,

  61. Adella -  February 6, 2011 - 2:08 pm

    I love pink…….odd to think pink was associated with guys & blue for girls. lol

  62. b -  February 6, 2011 - 1:52 pm

    beep beeep

  63. deena -  February 6, 2011 - 1:18 pm

    i showed my girlfriend ashely this and she was like really and i was like yeah and she told me she was going to show to our teacher and say we found it together so we can get a’s .we are both failing together we are both 16 and still sophmores anyway yeah how cool would it be to get my first a and actualy deserv it not just copy somone els . lol im so happy.
    deena and ashely forever!

  64. Ethan F. -  February 6, 2011 - 1:14 pm

    As to what pink was called before it was called “pink,” it must have been referred to simply as “light red” or “pale red”. Just as baby blue and mint green are just light variations of their respective colors, much like pink.

  65. deena -  February 6, 2011 - 1:08 pm

    ughh. . why won’t you go faster ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. . . . . .

  66. chuck noris -  February 6, 2011 - 12:54 pm

    strange… man…

  67. Kevin -  February 6, 2011 - 12:06 pm

    to pink. Now I have a new phrase to say to women. I am going to pink you. :)

  68. ag -  February 6, 2011 - 11:34 am

    primarily psychological effect…

    the male gender usually is furious, argumentative and testosterone hormones and adrenaline hormones shoot up rapidly when heated situations come up. Now i forgot where i’ve seen it but based on the research, 10 men who were capable of lifting a 200 lb barbel were challenged to lift it inside 3 painted rooms. 1 room painted in blue, 1 painted in pink and 1 room painted in red.
    the test was supervised by researchers and used electromyogram and i forgot the other gadgets they’ve used.

    1. all men stepped inside the pink painted room and tried to lift the 200 lb barbel. they were able to lift it half way through.(all of them were surprised) data was noted.

    2. all men went to the second room painted in blue. lifted the barbel and was able to lift it all the way through. data was noted

    3. last;yu, they went to the last room painted in red. lifted the barbel and were able to lift it up easily as if they were lifting a 100 lb barbel. data was recorded

    follow up tests were given: researchers concluded the color pink has a psychological effect to the musculine gender. somehow the muscles and the hormones did not act wildly when all men were exposed to the color. and based on the answers of these men, they said they were more relaxed and felt lazy. therefore controlling emotional musculine outburst turning lions to pussycats lol!

  69. MOOT -  February 6, 2011 - 9:59 am

    Red + Communist
    Pink = Obama

  70. Queen Sardonic -  February 6, 2011 - 9:54 am

    Well, it certainly feels like pink is reverting to a boy’s color again…
    Very informative article!

  71. kit -  February 6, 2011 - 5:15 am

    The article said that the color pink was associated with perfection = men. Of course. ;)
    As for post-WWII flip, I’d say they were the culprits again — and likely occurred after coming home and taking back their jobs and positions.

  72. Junfan Mantovani -  February 6, 2011 - 4:36 am

    A pink shirt really does make a nice mullet look that extra bit special.

  73. lovely me -  February 6, 2011 - 3:38 am

    foreveryoung. that is very true. !!
    gwtsb, wtf!! stop guessing !!

  74. lovely me -  February 6, 2011 - 3:36 am

    wow. interesting, btw, pink is NOT ma favourite colour, its PURPLE. hehe

  75. Chatanas -  February 6, 2011 - 1:44 am

    It’s just a theory too but…
    Maybe it was only a mistake to think that pink was appropriate for boys and blue for girls.
    It could have been switched because women were finally more attracted by pink and men by blue.
    So, it would have only been a question of marketing mistake which would have been corrected…

  76. cgg -  February 6, 2011 - 1:05 am

    RED, symbolizing love and romance, is the color associated with Valentine’s Day. Pink, particularly in flowers, is associated with “admiration”, when used in a positive sense. I know of two places where pink is thought to emasculate those in its environment, thereby giving the color a more negative tinge: the U of IA men’s locker room for the Visiting football team is totally pink – walls, lockers, commode, sink, etc; by order of the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Phoenix AZ, all prisoners are issued pink underwear.
    Roses are red, violets are blue. If on Valentine’s Day, for your love you choose pink, next time think, think, think, ’cause you chose the wrong hue.
    (Okay, a poet I’m not.)

  77. foreveryoung -  February 5, 2011 - 10:46 pm

    BTW, thank you to the writer of the pink article. It was very informative. I always wondered why pinking shears were so named. And, even though I love to see pink on men, I still think that when you combine it with pinking or flowers, it presents a very gentle, soft, frilly picture and, therefore, is more feminine than masculine. I don’t think I could handle seeing a man wearing a pink, lacy shirt or frilly, lacy tie. Women still basically represent softness and men still represent a harder persona..

  78. foreveryoung -  February 5, 2011 - 10:30 pm

    Had to read this article. I LOVE PINK Now it DOES seem to be reversing…or balancing between the two sexes. I love to see pink on men, esp. very obviously non-gay men. For awhile, men were thought of as gay if they wore pink, but suddenly that changed. I’m glad. Maybe it’s because I love pink so much. I love “different” and am always glad to see someone breaking out of the norm. Mothers still dress girl babies in pink and boy babies in blue, though. It’s going to take the mothers of the world to break future generations out of that mindset of the relationship of color to sex.

  79. GWSTB -  February 5, 2011 - 9:41 pm

    My guess is, blue became associated with masculinity because of military uniforms. (Think ‘dress blues’ or ‘the boys in blue’.) Just a wild guess, though.

  80. Emily -  February 5, 2011 - 7:45 pm

    The article is really interesting. For me the gender switch was a mystery. I saw some info that in the concentration camps homosexuals in Germany had pink clothes.
    As well, subversive groups like Code Pink and the gay movement point to the subversion of the prison clothes into a color of protest against discrimination.

  81. mayx -  February 5, 2011 - 6:38 pm

    nice its wierd how things sswitch

  82. Madison -  February 5, 2011 - 6:27 pm

    Wow, I had no idea. And to think I used to hate the color pink…. But I’m curious, why did the colors flip suddenly?

  83. Ola -  February 5, 2011 - 6:14 pm

    Wow, that’s really interesting. Now I wonder why pink was ever thought to be a masculine color…

  84. Maria Lucena -  February 5, 2011 - 5:41 pm

    Well, just who decided to switch the colors of blue for boys and pink for girls.
    I cannot think of a time where pink was associated with boys.
    Crazy how we can tame our minds to accept things!

  85. Patrick Bartlett -  February 5, 2011 - 4:38 pm

    Lol, I’m confused.

  86. Elizabeth -  February 5, 2011 - 4:37 pm

    What was the colour “pink” called before it started to be called “pink”? Anyone knows?

  87. TrulyMe -  February 5, 2011 - 3:58 pm

    Just joking!

  88. TrulyMe -  February 5, 2011 - 3:57 pm

    I am surprised. I never thought pink to be a boy color. Stereotypes are probably what made me think this way. Oh, and I’m the first to comment! :)

  89. Lydia -  February 5, 2011 - 3:30 pm

    Good question, Rebecca. I wonder what the connection was between the post-WWII era and the switch in color/gender associations? A tremendous amount of cultural norms changed during that period; this is one I was not aware of.

  90. Elaine La France -  February 5, 2011 - 3:28 pm

    thought the source is undocumented, the wording in this article parrotts the explanation of pink in the book SEEING RED OR TICKLED PINK:
    COLOR IN TERMS IN EVERYDAY LANGUAGE (Plumbe books for word wtchers by Penguine Group Publishers Ny 1993 as authored by lexicographer Christine Ammer. Ammer’s also details pink politics, pink pursuits/women’s jobs, pink tea & drinks, pinkeye & pills maladies & pink slip job firings.

  91. Jam -  February 5, 2011 - 2:17 pm

    Thanks for explaining :D

  92. Tea Momo -  February 5, 2011 - 2:02 pm

    Pink is becoming associated with percussionists and computer geeks. Probably not everywhere, but at least in the places I’m aware of.

  93. Pinki -  February 5, 2011 - 1:54 pm


  94. margeret ann -  February 5, 2011 - 1:53 pm


  95. Rebecca -  February 5, 2011 - 1:43 pm

    Why don’t these articles ever provide references?

  96. Alex -  February 5, 2011 - 1:25 pm

    Interesting that pink was once the boy color and blue the girl color. How things switch so strangely!


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