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

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria F.
    Mar 20, 2015 @ 11:15:44

    Dutch, that’s interesting. Here it’s used also when referring to extremely curly hair (El tiene el pelo quinqui), in the same way you would use it for kinky hair. Good find, because I probably would have written it as “kinky”, instead of “quinqui”.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 20, 2015 @ 12:26:48

      Right you are. Quinqui is just a Spanish respelling of the English word. I assume the strong American influence in Puerto Rico accounts for the hair-related usage in the Spanish there, a usage apparently not shared in Spain (and perhaps not in other Spanish-speaking countries either).


  2. Maria F.
    Mar 20, 2015 @ 16:21:51

    Probably the more proper way to substitute “quinqui” would be to say “crespo”: e.g., “El tiene el cabello “crespo”. Nevertheless, the strong American influence here has brought us to say “kinky”, and even write it that way, which is a barbarism.


  3. Maria F.
    Mar 20, 2015 @ 16:43:29

    That probably stems from crêpe in French.


  4. Maria F.
    Mar 20, 2015 @ 16:49:16

    Here they left crepê intact (as French) when referring to “papel “crepȇ’, which is like a corrugated paper used to make flowers and other gift wraps, I don’t know why they left it in French when referring to the paper. The hair, however, remained “crespo”.


  5. Maria F.
    Mar 20, 2015 @ 19:34:27

    Yes, I meant that one, ‘crepé’, but dictionaries show you stemming from French “crêpe”, so the Spanish switched the accent, don’t ask me why.


    • Maria F.
      Mar 20, 2015 @ 19:37:16

      It probably has to do with the Spanish pronunciation rules with the accent at the end for the vowel.


      • Steve Schwartzman
        Mar 20, 2015 @ 19:41:31

        Here’s what I think happened. The French verb is crêper ‘to crimp.’ The past participle is crêpé (with stress on the final syllable) ‘crimped.’ It’s the French past participle that Spanish borrowed, dropping the circumflex (which Spanish doesn’t have) and keeping the acute accent, which coincidentally coincides with the syllable stress in the French word.


        • Maria F.
          Mar 20, 2015 @ 19:49:47

          Yes, that’s what I meant, the acute accent. You’re right, it dropped the circumflex accent. English dropped them all, because there aren’t any, still the same word is used: e.g., “Crepe ginger”. It’s still the same, but without the accent. That’s a great feature of the English language; no accents (as far as I know).


          • Maria F.
            Mar 20, 2015 @ 20:14:21

            Also from Old English crisp “curly,” from Latin crispus “curled, wrinkled, having curly hair,”.


          • Maria F.
            Mar 20, 2015 @ 20:26:37

            Crispus “began to mean “brittle” 1520s, for obscure reasons, perhaps based on what happens to flat things when they are cooked. As a noun, from late 14c. Potato crisps (the British version of U.S. potato chips) is from 1929.” So ‘crispus’ is now ‘brittle’, and ‘curly’ took over.


  6. shoreacres
    Mar 22, 2015 @ 17:49:31

    I finally looked up “linguistic barbarism” and lost the image of the club-wielding guy in skins. I did think this was interesting: “…the ideophone “bar-bar-bar” was the Ancient Greek equivalent of modern English “blah-blah-blah”, meant to sound like gibberish.” I do hope that’s accurate.

    As for “kink,” it’s one in a long list of nautical terms we’ve taken from Dutch: deck, sloop, skipper, and so on. Of course, long before I ever saw a boat, I knew about kinks in hoses and kinks in family plans. It’s an extraordinarily useful word.

    And what Texan doesn’t know or know about the Kinkster — Kinky Friedman? I still remember standing in the middle of my Favrot Hall apartment in the Texas Medical Center in the summer of 1973. It was my first week in Houston, and I had one of the local radio stations playing while I unpacked boxes. Suddenly, I was listening to Kinky and his Texas Jewboys sing, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed.” I’d never heard anything quite like it. I certainly knew I wasn’t in Iowa any more. It made me laugh then, and it makes me laugh now.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 22, 2015 @ 20:58:08

      As far as I know, the Greeks did indeed use sounds like bar-bar to indicate the way foreign speech sounded to them, and from that we have words like barbarian and barbarism. We also have the name Barbara, originally ‘foreigner’.

      Shame on me for forgetting to include Kinky Friedman in this post. Thanks for rectifying the omission. Just as Dorothy knew she wasn’t in Kansas anymore, you knew you weren’t in Iowa.


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