Pinko is a slang term coined in 1925 in the United States to describe a person regarded as being sympathetic to communism, though not necessarily a Communist Party member. It has since come to be used, derogatorily, to describe anyone perceived to have leftist or socialist sympathies.
The term has its origins in the notion that pink is a lighter shade of red, a color associated with communism. Thus pink could describe a "lighter form of communism", purportedly promoted by supporters of socialism who were not themselves actual or "card carrying" communists. The term pinko has a pejorative sense, whereas 'pink' in this definition can be used in a purely descriptive sense, such as in the term pink tide.
The word pinko was coined by Time magazine in 1925 as a variant on the noun and adjective pink, which had been used along with parlor pink since the beginning of the 20th century to refer to those of leftish sympathies, usually with an implication of "effeteness". In the 1920s, for example, a Wall Street Journal editorial described supporters of the progressive politician Robert La Follette as “visionaries, ne’er do wells, parlor pinks, reds, hyphenates [Americans with divided allegiance], soft handed agriculturalists and working men who have never seen a shovel.”
Pinko and pinky were widely used during the Cold War to label individuals accused of supporting the Soviet Union, including many supporters of ex-vice president Henry Wallace's 1948 U.S. presidential campaign with the Progressive Party. The word was predominantly used in the United States, where opposition to Communism grew strong among the population, especially during the McCarthy era. It was also in common use in South Africa during the apartheid era. In his two presidential campaigns, Alabama governor George Wallace often railed at "the left-wing pinko press" and at "pseudo-pinko-intellectuals."
Some of the most infamous uses of the term pink came during future president Richard Nixon's 1950 Senate campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas: "She's pink right down to her underwear!" — a play on the fact that, at the time, pink was the usual color of women's undergarments. Nixon regularly referred to her as "the Pink Lady", and his campaign distributed political flyers printed on sheets of pink paper.
One of the most famous uses of the term in popular culture was the ironic use by Charlie Daniels in his breakthrough 1972 hit "Uneasy Rider." The dope-running hippie narrator is stuck with a flat tire in Jackson, Mississippi. Attempting to avoid a beatdown by the locals, he attempts to deflect attention to one of the locals by accusing him of being "a friend of them long haired, hippie-type, pinko fags" sent by the FBI to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
Archie Bunker, the patriarch of the Bunker family in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family often derisively used the term 'pinko' when referring to his liberal son-in-law Michael "Meathead" Stivic or Michael's friends.
In the sitcom MASH the recurring character Colonel Flagg often uses the term pinko and other comments to question the patriotism of the doctors when they do not help him in his undercover operations.
Tabloid-TV talk show host Morton Downey Jr. was famous for using the term to berate nearly anyone who disagreed with him.
In the graphic novel Watchmen, in a fictional news article written by character Hector Godfrey, the editor of the newspaper New Frontiersman, while criticizing Douglas Roth and his magazine Nova Express for their views on the masked vigilantes, Godfrey says "Who the hell do Roth and his cringing staff of pinko sycophants think they are????"
The term was used repeatedly on the television series John Safran vs God when Safran is referring to his target demographic. Safran is likely to have intentionally referenced Daniels' "Uneasy Rider", and notably Safran had on a previous episode infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.
In the TV sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry's father Morty refers to the Boca Breeze, a newsletter released by the residents' association of his Florida condominium, as "a pinko commie rag."
In the movie The Boondock Saints, "Funny Man" Rocco (played by David Della Rocco) insults one of the Russian mafia thugs by joking that his "pinko Commie mother sucks so much dick, her face looks like an egg", and is then punched in the face as the bar fight scene begins.
In the Beavis and Butt-head episode titled "Be All You Can Be", the Sergeant at the military recruiting station says "Seems you boys joined by assigning youselves a rank. So, which one of you signed up as "Major Woody" and "Private Parts?!" Why you little pinkos!"".
In the 2010 video game Battlefield: Bad Company 2, a soldier named Haggard calls his pilot a "Pinko liberal space muffin" after he reveals he's a pacifist.
The song "Rock You Monkeys" by Northern Irish alternative metal band Therapy? (from their album Never Apologise Never Explain) which makes fun of George W. Bush as well as America's view on immigration includes the line "Life's a gas/Life's a bitch/Fucked in the ass by a pinko snitch".
In the sixth episode of the second season of science-fiction television series Fringe, a Russian cosmonaut is at the center of the investigation for seeking and killing for radiation through his shadow entity. When Dr Walter Bishop comments on Russian fringe science, he refers to the pinkos as "Belly and I were always amazed at their advancements. Even forty years ago, you wouldn't believe what those pinkos were up to."
In his review of the movie Larry Crowne on CBS News Sunday Morning, David Edelstein describes the movie as "...a thoughtful portrait of middle-class life in the age of corporate capitalism, and of (pay attention, class) people who survive without becoming either zombie wage-slaves or pinko malcontents."
In a sketch on the May 21, 2011 airing of Saturday Night Live, an elderly newscaster named Herb Welsh (played by Bill Hader) would often ask unrelated questions to the report, one being "Do you think Lucille Ball is a pinko?".
In the movie Die Hard 2, one of the terrorist henchmen refers to reporter Sam Coleman as a "pinko bitch" in an early scene in the airport terminal.
In the late 2012 video game Far Cry 3, ex-CIA agent Willis Huntley (Voiced by Alain "Al" Goulem) remarks "Those pinkos took the wind out of her sails, cover me while I fix this" after a band of pirates assault his location, damaging his getaway plane. He also uses the term once or twice in the 'Handbook' feature of the game, which teaches the player about weapons, vehicles, etc.
In the 2003 Video game "Postal 2", Pedestrians respond to your attempts to get them to sign your petition with "No way, you freaking pinko!"
- Fellow traveler
- People's Flag is Palest Pink, The
- Political colour
- Red Scare
- Useful idiot
- Joseph J. Firebaugh, "The Vocabulary of 'Time' Magazine", American Speech, 15, 3, October 1940.
- "Mirrors of Washington", The Wall Street Journal, September 26, 1924.
- "Wallace Campaign Aims at McCarthy Elements", Washington Post, March 23, 1964.
- "The Wallace Challenge -- and Opportunity", The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 1972.