. . .my mother, and we are going back nearly 50 years here, used to call an exceptionally thin person "Skinny Malinks", I am guessing the spelling of Malinks, it could be Melincs, Millinks, or something close, but could it be any sort of clue do you think?
Bob in Wales
Bob, Well, I’ll be ding danged! I love it. This is really interesting. I too haven’t heard this expression for years, perhaps since I left NYC many moons ago – except for one thing. In Brooklyn, where I grew up, we said SKINNY BALINK, which after doing some research, I am convinced was just one more mangling of the language by us folks from New York City who might have also managed to mispronounce it as SKINNY MARINK (also see quotes below for MERINK variation). I thought at first it might have been a personal mishearing by me (a ‘mondegreen,’ a word or phrase resulting from a misinterpretation of a word or phrase that has been heard – ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven. HAROLD be thy name’), but upon checking with my sister, I found that she also heard it as ‘balink,’ at least in our section of Brooklyn.
None of the sources I checked had an explanation for the SKINNY MALINK other than to say that it was from Scottish dialect and first appeared in print in the late 19th century. The quotes below certainly confirm the Scottish source and a New York City connection. It always amazes me every time I discover the source of one my old NYC expressions – what a melting pot of various linguistic influences that place was.
Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang
SKINNYMALINK or SKINNY MARINK by 1916: a very thin person [from Scottish dialect]
___________________<1934 “In Britain the quality of writing is not strained. Even when they have nothing to say her novelists generally manage to say it well. Author Marshall is best known for his engaging and witty Father Malachy's Miracle . . . . .. SKINNYMALINK Jamieson, father of "Slug" Jamieson, makes the commencement speech in an outlandish Scots dialect while the ashamed "Slug" betrays him in the hope of ingratiating himself with his scornful fellows.”—in ‘Time Magazine,’ book review of ‘Brothers and Lovers’ by John Hampson, 20 August> [[this is an expansion of Chapman’s quote directly from the source]]
Oxford English Dictionary
SKINNYMALINK, SKINNYMALINKS, SKINNYMALINKY (Chiefly Scottish), a thin emaciated person or animal.
Quotes from the OED and other sources:
Ken G – May 31, 2005<1892 “Twa SKINAMALINKS o' the genus horse.”—‘Brechin Advertiser’ (Scotland), 6 September
<1904 “Wee SKINA~MALINK craturs dottin' up the passages in U.F. kirks carryin' the books.”—‘Erchie, My Droll Friend’ by H. Foulis (pseudonym for Scottish author Neil Munro), iii. page 15>
<1916 “SKINNY~MALINK, a very thin person. ‘O, she's a regular SKINNY~MALINK.’ Usage jocular.”—‘Dialect Notes IV’ [[American Dialect Society]], page 289>
<1935 “The chagrin of the old SKINNYMALINKS.”—“Echo’s Bones” by Samuel Beckett [[the Irish playwright]]>
<1956 “There used to be a children's song in Aberdeen relating the adventures of a thin man called ‘SKINAMALINKY Lang Legs’, which is still sung as a skipping song, etc.: SKINAMALINKY lang legs Umbrella feet.”—‘Sunday Times,’ 22 January, page 2/5>
<1959 “Thin people . . . kin and bones, skinny . . . skinny guts, Skinny Liz, SKINNY-MALINK.” —‘The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren” by I. & P. Opie, ix. page 160>
<1979 “A SKINNMALINK of a laddie with holes in his stockings.”—‘Border Bairn’ by Lavina Derwent [[Scottish author]], vi. page 71>
<1994 “If this noble experiment works, if women eventually emerge to play on mixed pro teams and become major leaguers (if a self-confessed ‘SKINNY MARINK’ like Mayer dared have summer dreams, why not a muscular woman?”—‘N.Y. Times,’ book review of “Baseball and Men’s Lives” by Robert Mayer [[born and raised in NYC]], 20 February, page S11>
<1995 “You’re a dumb yenta, she told herself. Besides, what was so special about her, she thought. A raving beauty, she wasn’t. And those glasses, a regular cockeyed Jennie. And a SKINNY MERINK on top of it.”— ‘Never Too Late for Love’ by Adler [[story of a Florida Jewish retirement community – And where 99.9% of the old Jewish folks living in Florida come from? – you guess it NYC. Take it from me. I know. My mother lives there!]]>
<2003 “Mr. O'Neills use of the Erse [[Gaelic, especially Scots Gaelic]] language expressions and his beautiful sentence structures left me in awe of his grasp of the idiom; as a man in his late sixties, I recall some of my older Irish relatives using some of these same expressions/words that I have never seen as written words until this book - my old aunt used to say what I thought was "SKINNY MERINK" to describe a thin person and I find Mr. O'Neills "SKINAMALINK" is an actual expression/word. Other examples were Galoot and galimafree -again words from my callow youth.”—reader book review of ‘At Swim, Two Boys: A Novel’ by Jamie O'Neill>