Discussion in 'English Only' started by hoaryoldtranslator, Jul 11, 2007.

  1. hoaryoldtranslator Senior Member

    France, English
    Intending to be complementary, I recently described another musician's instrument (a lute as it happens) as 'dinky'. His reply made me think he was quite offended. Where I come from (UK) 'dinky' means 'small, cute, neat'. Does it have other connotations on the other side of the pond?
  2. Trisia

    Trisia mod de viață

    This must be one of the funniest threads in weeks.

    Check out this definition from Dictionary.com:

    1.Informal. small, unimportant, unimpressive, or shabby: We stayed in a dinky old hotel.
    2.British Informal. fashionable; well dressed; smart.

    Oh, and click here for a load of synonyms (a quick preview: small-fry, insignificant, petty)

    I can definitely see why he took offence :D

    EDIT: This gets better: Merriam-Webster entry on dinky :p

    Etymology: Scots dink neat
    : overly or unattractively small <drives a dinky little car>; also British : attractively small : CUTE

    How did this happen? Any natives that know the answer?

    P.S. Welcome to the forums, hoaryoldtranslator :). Don't worry, not everybody here is as mean as I am. We love to help and we wish you a nice stay!
  3. Haylette Senior Member

    UK, English
    I think "dinky" is a cute word!
    Don't be afraid to use it in England. We wont mind :)
  4. tepatria Senior Member

    Onondaga, Ontario
    Canadian English
    Welcome to the forum. It's words like this that make this forum so popular! Trisia gave a great answer. Dinky is small, but in a derogatory way.
  5. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    When I was a wee fellow, I played with model cars - made in England - called Dinky Toys.

    Whenever I heard the word "dinky", I think of those toys.
  6. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Welcome to the forum, Hoary Old One. I'm sure you were intending to be complimentary. What was the nationality of the lute player? He doesn't sound to have had much sense of humour.
  7. Floridian Member

    Dinky has a negative connotation for me. I assume that most Americans would agree. It does seem to be a difference between AE and BE. Pure speculation, but maybe we associate it with 'dingy'.
  8. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    "You're such a dink!" used to be a popular saying. It was another term for "dork", just meaner.

    In AE, dinky would be disliked by many, many people! Especially men, if you were smirking and pointing when you said it.

    Dink is another word for penis. Dinky means small.

    You do the math.

  9. Trisia

    Trisia mod de viață

    Ah, come on AngelEyes, did you have to go and do this? I love this word!

    (And you Americans have way too many words that mean that)

    As a non-native, I think this word should be accepted in Top30 Cutest Words Ever. It really has a neat sound.
  10. Floridian Member


    I've never heard this. Must be generational/regional.
  11. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States

    I'm sorry! I know I'm no expert on those things, but I don't think it's just me here in Michigan.

    1. HERE
    2. HERE
    3. HERE
    4. HERE

    I would never use dink or dinky in reference to a male friend. Keep in mind this word is a softer version of dick.

    It carries negative connotations in AE. Just be aware of that.

  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Tracking back through the references in the OED, it comes from a Scottish and northern dialect word, dink (adjective), meaning finely dressed or decked out, trim.
    Thence to dinky, Scottish and N American dialect/colloquial: neat, trim, dainty -> small, tiny, trifling. Here I can see the beginnings of the pejorative sense that seems to dominate in AE.

    Is it possible that dink=penis came from the sense of dinky at the tiny and trifling end of the spectrum of definitions? On the other hand, none of the words in the definition of dinky would be considered complimentary when used in relation to a penis. (See AngelEyes link 1)

    There is, of course, the acronymic meaning of dink = double income no kids, and dinky, double income no kids - yet.(See AngelEyes link 2)

    As for hoaryoldtranslator's problem - if the lute in question happened to be smaller and more attractively made than others, then dinky sounds to me like an entirely appropriate description (in the BE world).
  13. konungursvia Banned

    Canada (English)
    In AE, dinky is a childish word, meaning small, weak or petty. It does often have pejorative rather than cute connotations.
  14. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    I don't think I've ever heard anyone use the word "dinky" before. If I had, I would have associated it with "rinky-dink" or "rinky-dinky" which to me means "cheap, low-class, unsophisticated." Well, now I know better.
  15. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    river, in my experience dinky is a common, or at least widely recognizable, word in American usage.
  16. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    Yes, "dinky" is common in American English, but as others have posted it has negative connotations here.
  17. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I never heard "dink" used as a vulgar term for penis.

    I have heard "dink" in tennis (two "n's" and one "t") for a shot that just makes it over the net.

    "Dinky" always connoted "cheap" or "insignificant" to me.

    "A Yugo was a dinky car if ever there was one."

    "Oh, yeah? Well then you never drove a Daf, have you? Now that's a dinky car."

    I would feel free to use "dinky" in any kind of mixed company, formal or informal, it it was the right word for the sentence. It is not offensive or innately casual.
  18. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I agree. "dinky" means unusually small and insignificant. "I live in a dinky little town and drive my dinky little car to my dinky little cubicle at my dead-end job; here's to living the high life."
  19. tilywinn Senior Member

    Australia, English
    I’d never heard of ‘dinky’ before. In Australia we say ‘dinky-dye.’ It’s colloquial and means that someone is (or is being) genuine/truthful. When calling something ‘dinky-dye’ it means that the object is genuine/an original.

    If I heard someone say ‘dinky’ here, I would have assumed that they had just shortened ‘dinky-dye.’ It’s a positive word, so saying it wouldn’t get you into trouble but it has a different meaning to ‘dinky’ in BE. Certainly nothing like the AE meaning.

    There’s also ‘fair-dinkum.’ It’s also colloquial and means the same thing as ‘dinky-dye.’ It’s more likely to be used when questioning if someone is being serious/truthful; or in a surprised statement that what has been said is really true.

  20. colfer2 New Member

    English - U.S.
    I wonder if there's been some cross-pollination between 'dinky' and 'donkey'. Both are used to describe small trains and other work engines, such as pumps. Donkey may be more common in the U.K., and the origin *seems* obvious, since the engines work and sometimes look like donkeys.

    In Minneapolis in the U.S., Dinkytown is a well-known neighborhood. It's the commercial area adjacent to a very large university. The explanations for the name include: its smallness, compared to a real downtown; corruption of a Slavic shop name there, Grodnik, meaning "small town"; a nearby trainyard; and a streetcar line. Since Minnesota is known for its late nineteenth century Scandinavian and German immigration, I'd assumed "dink" was Germanic, or it at least appealed to that ear. If it's primarily Scottish, then there could be a connection with the sizable Irish immigration to Minneapolis as well.
  21. pob14 Senior Member

    Central Illinois
    American English
    "Dinky" is used in the Disney movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit as a euphemism for "penis." (Well, Touchstone, technically, but that was just a Disney brand name.)

    Baby Herman: I got a fifty-year-old lust and a three-year-old dinky.

    So it's not exactly an obscure usage.
  22. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    Another Michigander who used that term, back in the '60s. Don't think I ever heard "dick" until after I moved to Illinois, when I was 12.
  23. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Mental Note: "Stop describing absolutely everything as dinky if you ever visit USA. Especially Michigan."
  24. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Except for Roger Rabbit, I've never heard "dink" or "dinky" used as a euphemism for "penis." "Dinky" has always had negative connotations (meaning "small" but in a cheap, shabby or otherwise inadequate way, not a cute way), but not negative in that way. Live and learn!
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  25. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    Same for me, JustKate. I've never heard "dink" to mean "penis".
  26. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    My gosh, from the time I was a young girl, we called those things dinks. I'm amazed at the regional differences in the understanding of this word.

    Well, learning is why I'm here.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  27. jiamajia

    jiamajia Senior Member

    I think I heard Rush Limbaugh refer to Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) as 'Dinky' Graham on his show. I knew it must mean something bad, because the senator is a moderate Republican whom Rush dislikes.
  28. jiamajia

    jiamajia Senior Member

    Probably I remembered it wrong. It could be 'Dingy Graham'.:)
  29. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Probably worth a mention: there used to be a very popular British brand of model cars, lorries, aeroplanes, etc called "Dinky". Examples are still very much collected http://www.dinkysite.com/#/rare-dinky/4515774699

    To people of my age who had them when young, "dinky" conjures up something small and smart.
  30. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    (See post #5 :D)
  31. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    :eek: I wonder if he has any swaps?
  32. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
  33. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    Although he may have, I've never heard Rush use the word dinky for Lindsey Graham. He has used the word dingy in reference to Harry Reid. Two totally different meanings here.
  34. colfer2 New Member

    English - U.S.
    To me, "dinky" means small in cute way, or somewhat humorously small. It's only slightly derogatory. "Rinky-dink" means shoddy or small-time, built or performed to low standards. Example: "a rinky-dink operation", to describe such an endeavor. I'm from Virginia.

    The descriptions from Michigan suggest some later evolutions, and even sound like the Michigan accent, with "dink" for "think," etc. In German, "ding" means "thing," and as I read recently, "no more beautiful a word in German than it is in English." (In www*nybooks*com/articles/archives/2013/jan/10/study-panther/ footnote 6, John Banville quoting Mark Harman. I can't post links, new user.)

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