By Oldbag


2018-09-08 14:02:53 8 Comments

(Child of the 70's here...) While in conversation with a millenial yesterday, I used the word "fink" to describe a low, sneaky, two-faced um, fink. She'd never heard the word. "Ratfink"? Nope. "The Wizard of Id...'The king is a fink'?" Nope.

Now, I know what happened to "gyp", (which was as commonplace as yo-yo's and bubble gum, in my day) but, why abandon a perfectly innocent word like "fink"?

I tried the N-gram thing - didn't get far. I found a blurb on this site by FumbleFingers (hoping you can lend a hand here, FF)

I recently relocated, so this may just be a regional anomaly... But, I am curious... Has "fink" disappeared from the AmE lexicon?

2 comments

@Mari-Lou A 2018-09-08 16:14:18

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,… @StoneyB

World Wide Words tells us that fink has three different meanings

The first one recorded is of an unpleasant or contemptible person (sometimes in the extended form ratfink), but the more common one today is that of someone who informs on people to the authorities. There’s also a third sense, now dated, of a strike breaker.

Michael Quinion, the author, suggests that the term is derived from 19th century German slang, meaning "finch", used to describe undergraduates who were not members of a college fraternity. The meaning of fink then extended to “not one of us”.

Today in the 21st century, you just don't hear fink or stinker being used in American movies or in cable TV shows, let alone by rap or hip-hop artists.

I suspect that the younger generations replaced the euphemism "fink" with its more direct and taboo counterparts, motherfucker, son of a bitch, and similar ilk. Less derogatory and offensive terms would be: scoundrel, villain, rogue, rascal, brute, animal, weasel, snake, monster, ogre, wretch, devil, good-for-nothing, reprobate, wrongdoer, evil-doer (courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries). Interestingly, the same synonyms are suggested for both fink and motherfucker.

The term "fink" sounds twee and almost charming in comparison, a suitable utterance for a child but much less so for an adult. In fact, Batfink was a popular children's cartoon character, on both sides of the Atlantic, the TV cartoon was produced from April 1966 to October 1967 and enjoyed a cult following when it was repeated during the 1970s and '80s.

The American English corpus, via Google Ngram, seems to concur that "fink" lost its derogatory appeal: a fink (blue), a stinker (red), son of a bitch (green), a motherfucker (yellow), a bastard (dark blue). The noun form fink is way at the bottom, followed closely by stinker, and surprisingly, motherfucker.

enter image description here

If we focus our attention on the last three terms, and add the verb "is", i.e. is a fink, Google Ngram should avoid those instances where the author's name, A. Fink, is cited. The expression “is a stinker” seems to have peaked in the 1950s while that of “is a fink” in the early 1970s. Both terms were surpassed in frequency by the infinitely more offensive insult, motherfucker, around 1985. The same time that coincided with the Generation X's coming of age.

enter image description here


Credit is due to the following users whose comments helped improve the answer: @Lambie, @Hot Licks, @Mitch, and @user3293056

@Mitch 2018-09-09 01:26:34

@Mari-LouA You may want to add a graph that shows the changes in fink, since the very taboo (and exactly synonymous) 'mother fucker' washes it out. As an AmE speaker, 'fink' is a word I recognize from early 80's Mad Magazine, one of those tepid euphemisms for I don't know what. And the graph shows it had a peak in the early 70's and has been trailing off ever since, directly answering the OP. And there's the Cohn bros movie 'Barton Fink' from the 90's

@MetaEd 2018-09-10 18:56:55

Remember to stay respectful and kind. Best to avoid sarcasm, jokes, subtle (or not-so-subtle) putdowns or unfriendly language, bigotry, or harassment. If a situation makes it hard to act kindly, stop posting. Instead, flag harmful behavior to alert moderators. More information: Expected Behavior, Code of Conduct.

@lbf 2018-09-08 18:44:31

Usage of "fink" from an AmE perspective: it is still used, especially in political and current events as evidenced by:

Thus, the exam rooms of Old Nassau are some of the few places where it is not just appropriate but necessary for a gentleman to fink on his friends. Slate Aug 26, 2014

and

That takes finking to a whole new level. New York Times Apr 16, 2018

and

The president—that fink!—was trying to grab “every piece of credit.” Slate '12

and

Now I'm beginning to wonder if we are all becoming mesmerized by these sly, furry finks and if they are mounting a bid for world supremacy. Guardian 2014

and

Everybody is -- everybody is finking on each other. Fox News, "Democrats' new rallying cry: 'Abolish ICE'," 30 June 2018

and finally from the late and great William Safire - NY Times '87: On Language; Goons and Ginks and Company Finks

@J.R. 2018-09-09 00:17:19

I like this answer, but that first quote isn't really evidence of modern usage, given that it's embedded in a quote from 1965.

@lbf 2018-09-09 01:01:18

@J.R. edited that one out and replaced with a 2014 excerpt. Looking for a couple more.

@J.R. 2018-09-09 01:08:25

I don't know that it needed to be removed. I thought it made a nice start.

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