I recently took Gavin and Maggie down to Greeport, Long Island, to visit my 84-year-old mother. At one point she said of Gavin, “He’s a skinnymalink!”
I can’t vouch for the spelling of that. I’ve seen it written as two words, “skinny malink,” but that doesn’t seem quite right. In fact, after some basic research on the word, I can’t determine a whole lot about it. Maybe there isn’t a lot to know.
My maternal grandmother came to this country from Ireland when she was a teenager. Our people, as we say, came from Louth, known as “the Wee County” because, um, it’s so very wee (but you knew that already!). Grandma used the word “skinnymalink” — I remember hearing it as a little boy — and I’m sure that’s where my mother got it. I found a discussion about the word over at wordwizard.com. It seems I’m not alone; several folks wrote and recalled hearing it as children. The word appears to originate from Scotland, then took hold in Ireland, and later found voice in New York City (both of my parents grew up in Queens Village). Skinnymalink means an extremely thin person, as you probably gathered.
At The Mudcat Cafe, I found a reference to this old Scottish street poem:
Skinny Malinky Longlegs
Big Banana feet
went tae the pictures
and couldnae find a seat
when the picture started
Skinny Malinky farted
Skinny Malinky longlegs
Big Banana feet
What’s my point? I love hearing those verbal links to our past. Besides, it’s a FUN WORD to say. Try it: skinnymalink! It pleases the tongue. It would be a shame to lose a word that good. I so enjoyed hearing it again coming from my mother’s lips; I had forgotten. And I guess that’s what I’m doing here — trying hard not to forget.
Are any of you familiar with the word? Feel free to comment, please.
Just for fun, here’s a photo I found on a Google search, under the title, “Skinnymalinky long legs.” Looks like my dog after a bad haircut, the same uncomprehending gaze.
And also, here’s my very own skinnymalink:
And here’s Maggie with my mom (and you wonder where I get my gray hair):
I used to hear the word growing up in a Bronx Irish neighborhood in the 1950s. A friend’s mother, 2nd generation Irish American, used to call him Skinnymalink, usually with an affectionate love-tap to the back of his head. It made me wonder if there were any fat malinks.
I saw the word again some 40 years later in Jamie O’Neill’s book, “At Swim Two Boys” (2001), which takes place in Dublin in 1916.