Pinko is a term for a person regarded as sympathetic to communism, though not necessarily a Communist Party member. The term has its origins in the notion that pink is a lighter shade of red, the color associated with communism. The word 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 beating 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.

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