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What does the word "phink" in the pink panther cartoon mean? It's in the title of the episode where the panther and a painter try to repaint a house: The Pink Phink.

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  • "Phink" is a made up word. An easy answer would therefore be "it doesn't mean anything." The more thoughtful answer is to note what it sounds like, and what it, perhaps, is meant to connote. Perhaps worthy of note is that small children will often pronounce a wide variety of glottal English sounds as /k/. When I read the word aloud, it puts me in mind of a child reading the word "thing". There's a lot of depth in some made up words, it just depends on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.
    – sirosen
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 18:03

2 Answers 2

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Phink is a jocular misspelling of fink, which in US slang of the 50s and 60s signified generally a despicable person and specifically a traitor or sneak, someone who betrays his criminal confederates to the police.

A common intensive form was rat fink, and it is worth noting that the Panther's adversary, the painter, visualizes him at two points in the cartoon as a rodent.

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As StoneyB points out, phink is a variant spelling (presumably to echo the pink in Pink Panther) of fink, which Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) defines as follows:

fink n {origin unknown} (1903) 1 : one who is disapproved of or is held in contempt 2 : STRIKEBREAKER 3 : INFORMER 2 [defined as ""one that informs against another ; specif : one who makes a practice esp. for a financial reward of informing against others for violations of penal laws"]

The cartoon usage that the OP asks about is undoubtedly the generalized first definition above.

The Eleventh Collegiate notes that as a verb (dating to "ca. 1925") fink means "to turn informer : SQUEAL," suggesting that all three senses of the noun fink were in use by 1925.

The 1903 occurrence that the Eleventh Collegiate cites is probably this one in George Ade, "What Father Bumped Into at the Culture Factory," in People You Know (1903):

"Does the Faculty permit you to be guilty of Disorderly Conduct?" asked the Parent.

"Any one who goes against the Faculty single-handed is a Fink," replied Buchanan. "We travel 800 in a Bunch, so that when the Inquest is held, there is no way of finding out just who it was that landed the Punch. Anything that happens in a College Town is an Act of Povidence. Now come along and see the American Youth at Play."

But Ade had already used fink in a newspaper article a decade earlier. From "'Stumpy' and Other Interesting People," Chicago Record (March 17, 1894), reprinted in Stories of Chicago (2003):

Attorney—"Do you know this plaintiff? What is his reputation; what do people say about him?"

Witness—"Everybody that's on to him says he's a fink."

Court—"A wh-a-a-at?"

Attorney—"Be somewhat more explicit, Mr. Carroll."

Witness—"You know what I mean; he's a stiff, a skate. He drinks and never comes up. He's always layin' to make a touch, too. I know that boy like a book."

Elisha Kane, "The Jargon of the Underworld," in Dialect Notes, volume 5, part 10 (1927) reports a different meaning (and derivation) of fink that was "in current use at the time of compilation [of the glossary] at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1927)":

fink, n. Originally a Pinkerton detective, now extended to mean any detective or a spying person. The change of p to f may be due to confusion with "finger." [The same glossary defines finger as "A policeman, so called from their supposed cat-like delight in fingering the men they have caught."]

A very detailed discussion of fink and its possible sources appears in chapter 4 ("Finks: Streets, Docks, Factories") in Archie Green, Wobblies, Pile Butts, and Other Heroes: Laborlore Explorations (1993), which cites a fink/Pinkerton connection as one theory (among thirteen that are summarized in an appendix to the chapter), though Green favors a reading that focuses on conflict between labor unions and Pinkerton detectives rather than on the underworld angle, and he seems unaware of Kane's Dialect Notes glossary.

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