Caught in passing on a tv show, a character talking about cop-talk:

Hinky? That’s not even a word!

Like every other cry of “That’s not a word!”, this one is bullshit.

Start with the very short story, from NOAD2:

US informal (of a person) dishonest or suspect: he knew the guy was hinky. (of an object) unreliable: my brakes are a little hinky. ORIGIN 1950s: of obscure origin

OED3 (September 2006) has more, and suggests an etymology (“probably a variant of hincty”)

1. Chiefly Police slang. Nervous, uneasy. [first cite 1956]
2. Suspect, questionable. Also: unreliable, not working properly. [first cite 1961]

On hincty / hinkty in OED2 (etymology unknown):

U.S. slang. Conceited, snobbish, stuck-up. [first cite: 1924 W.C. Handy quote]

Draft addition Sept. 2006: orig. in African-American usage. Wary, worried, suspicious. Also occas.: unreliable (cf. hinky adj. 2) [first cite 1929]

Green’s Dictionary of Slang takes the hinky-hincty connection for granted, and finds an etymology in Scotland:

hinky adj (also hankty, hincty, hinkie, hinkty) (Scot. hink, a hesitation, a misgiving)

1 (US police) suspicious. [first cite: 1924 W.C. Handy lyrics: “Well I am hinkty and I’m low-down”; lots of cites, but hinky appears much later]

2 (US) scared, jumpy, nervous. [first cite 1857 from Jack Kerouac, with hincty; hinkie and hinky come later]

So much for “not a (real) word!”: hinky / hinkie has been around for over 50 years, and the versions with t in them have been around for 100-150 years.

Irrelevant but entertaining. Utter “hinky” and most of the people in the room will think “Hinky dinky parlay voo” (or however they spell it) — but the song is irrelevant. It just happens to have something pronounced /hInki/ in it. Still, it’s entertaining.

From Wikipedia:

“Mademoiselle from Armentières” was a song that was particularly popular during World War I. It is also known by its ersatz French line, Hinky Dinky Parlez-vous (variant: Parley voo).

And that led to the Hinky Dinky stores. From Wikipedia:

Hinky Dinky was a supermarket chain based in Omaha, Nebraska, that operated mainly in Nebraska and Iowa.

The Hinky Dinky grocery store chain was started by Jule, Henry and Albert Newman, brothers, and Ben Silver, a cousin, in Omaha in 1925. Another supermarket chain already existing was called Piggly Wiggly. Hoping to take advantage of the public’s affection for a cute name (Piggly Wiggly was very successful) they came up with “Hinky-Dinky”, which was taken from the World War I song, “Hinky Dinky Parlez-vous”

It gets better. Early in the history of the Hinky Dinky chain, Piggly Wiggly started several infringement actions, leading to the possibility of an actual Piggly Wiggly Hinky Dinky court case, which would have been delicious. But, alas, Piggly Wiggly didn’t pursue the action.

3 Responses to “hinky?”

  1. Samantha N. Says:

    “Utter ‘hinky’ and most of the people in the room will think ‘Hinky dinky parlay voo’ (or however they spell it)[…]”

    Never in my life have I heard of this song. I’m 28; is this a simple generational divide? I doubt it’s regional; AZ is located in Columbus, if memory serves, and I was born and raised (and still reside) in Cincinnati.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Probably generational, certainly not regional. (For the record, I’m now in Palo Alto CA; but Columbus OH before that, and Urbana IL before that and Cambridge MA before that and Princeton NJ before that and outside of Reading PA before that, with briefer periods in England and Scotland.)
      I thought the old Army song had passed into general cultural currency, but I guess I was wrong.

  2. Joseph F Foster Says:

    And I heard it and we, i.e. the boys in the neighborhood, sang several verses of it when I was growing up in Arkansas in the 50s. And we used it in close order drill when I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol.

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