One afternoon I was checking the DRAE to see if Spanish might have a relative of the French word riquiqui that means ‘teensy, itty-bitty, very small.’ I didn’t find one, but in the process of looking I was led to the Spanish word quinqui, which the DRAE defines as a ‘persona que pertenece a cierto grupo social marginado de la sociedad por su forma de vida,’ which is to say a ‘person who belongs to a certain social group marginalized by [the greater] society because of its lifestyle.’ If that still doesn’t ring a bell, all you have to do is look at English kinky to see where Spanish got its word.
The social sense of quinqui is one of two conveyed by English kinky, and it’s a figurative one. The literal meaning is ‘tightly curled or twisted,’ with the -y ending making an adjective out of the noun kink, whose meanings include ‘a bend, twist curl; a muscle spasm; a flaw; a whim; an eccentric idea; a bizarre or unconventional sexual practice.’
Although kink sounds as if it could be a native English word, English borrowed it from Dutch, where it meant ‘a twist in a rope.’
© Steven Schwartzman