Words & Stuff

H: Apian Patellae

(24 August 1997)

A hinky-pinky is a clue, definition, or riddle, the answer to which is a pair of rhyming words. For instance, the clue

Hinky-pinky: a Norseman on wheels

could be answered "biking Viking." The phrase "hinky-pinky" is part of the clue; it declares that the words of the answer are each two syllables. Other phrases are used for other lengths: "hink-pink" indicates one-syllable rhyming words, "hinkety-pinkety" is for three-syllable rhymes, and "hinketius-pinketius" denotes the rare four-syllable rhyming phrase. (But the game is generically known as "hinky-pinky.") Answers usually comprise an adjective followed by a noun, but not always.

In more relaxed versions of the game, any sort of rhyme is permissible. The clue

Hinky-pinky: a deity's plan,

for instance, could have the answer "divine design." Stricter rules require that the answer words are both stressed on their first syllables, so that all the syllables rhyme (whereas in that last example only the final syllables rhyme) -- which is to say, only the initial sounds are different. This rule certainly makes it more difficult to come up with good hinky-pinkies.

Here are some to try:

Seafood spread.
A modern song about geography.
The contents of an air-conditioned Fort Knox.
Apian patellae.

A comedian who's only funny in written form.
A Norseman on wheels.
A physicist who's been miraculously healed.
Lots of relatives. (This is slightly cheating.)
One who engages in masked parades between school years.

The ideal spice.
The White House.
It all adds up in math.

A two-level bus full of tourists. (This almost rhymes.)
Boomer worship.
A statement at once soothing and hesitant.

...Hmm. I think four-syllable ones just don't work as well. Or maybe it's just harder to come up with good ones.

In further variation, some loose-ruled heretics even allow mixing numbers of syllables:

Hinkety-pinky: artificially intelligent beau.

(Of course, the name isn't really accurate, since "hinkety" doesn't rhyme with "pinky," but what else can you call it? A mahinky-pinky?) But all right-thinking hinky-pinkers maintain homogeneous syllable counts.

By the way, I recommend eschewing reference materials while constructing hinky-pinkies. A rhyming dictionary, in particular, makes it much too easy to come up with them. I also recommend making clues whimsical and semi-obscure, though ideally not so obscure as to be completely unguessable.

Reader comments and addenda page

Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>