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"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Word of the Day: Chinks

What do you think of when you hear the word “chinks?"  Now since I grew up on the Brooklyn streets, where we had a huge diversity of ethnicities and a complete lack of any compulsion to be politically correct, I do have to admit that not given a context my mind jumps to the derogatory slang term for a far eastern person.  But most of the time in context I think of it as referring to some sort of damage to some sort of wall or hard surface.  From Dictionary dot com

a crack, cleft, or fissure:
a chink in a wall.
a narrow opening:
a chink between two buildings.

verb (used with object)
to fill up chinks in.

Set aside the alternative definition of a sharp ringing sound (as in the chink of glasses tapping) I hardly ever refer to chink for anything other than an unwanted crack or indentation.  The common phrase, which has become an idiom from an apparent use as a metaphor is “chinks in armor.”  As a metaphor it compares a fracture of a personal defense, abstract or concrete, to the crack in armor.

Never owning a knight’s helmet (I come from peasant stock, not aristocracy :-P) I never think of chink as in a narrow opening, but I guess that’s the root of the ethnic slur.  The slits for sight on a knight’s helmet are sometimes referred to as chinks, which can resemble East Asian eyes. 

Wikipedia traces the slang slur to the end of the latter part of the 19th century: 

"Chink"'s first usage is recorded from about 1890 but "chinky" had first appeared in print, as far as can be ascertained, in 1878. Chinky is still used in Britain as a nickname for Chinese food.

Well it’s good to know that it’s not just we Brooklynites that can be insensitive.  ;)  But what’s important there is that the word “chink” and its metaphoric use well predates the slur.

Why do I bring this up?  I came across this little controversy between the United States Army, who as far as I can tell innocently used the “chinks in armor” metaphor, and those politically correct enforcers who screamed racism.  From the article, “Army Deletes Tweet About ‘Chinks In Armor’ After People Cry Racism:”  

The U.S. Army has deleted a tweet that used the term “chinks” in armor after people freaked out that the same word can be used in a completely different context as a racial slur against people of Chinese descent.

“Chinks in special ops’ digital and physical armor poses challenges, experts say,” the tweet read, followed by a link to a news release about how terrorists’ using social media has left a hole — dare I say, a chink in  — our country’s defenses.

You can go over and read the outraged counter tweets which forced the Army, though “shocked” at the reaction, to retract the tweet. 

So let this post serve as a public service announcement as to what “chink” really means. 


  1. After our wedding we had a reception in our home. Me and my two BFF's were hitting the sauce pretty good (happily assisted by my husband who poured the shots). We toasted everything under the sun, got smashed, and to this day "chink-chink" is our favorite thing to say to remind us of a great time. True story. That said, chink has always been one of those seldom used words to describe a flaw in something. As for the derogatory- since name calling really doesn't bug me that much, I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought to hear someone describe a Chinese person as a chink....until I got myself a beautiful Chinese friend. Now I'd flatten someone if I heard them call her that. OTOH, when you hear your parish priest from Mexico describe himself laughingly as a Wetback, well, what are ya gonna do?

    1. Oh I hope no one thinks I was insulting anyone. I was trying to be a little humorous. I have lots of Asian friends at work (Asians are really into engineering) that go way back, and even my son is Asian and has Asian eyes. Perhaps I ought to delete that last sentence and picture. I'm not a politically correct weenie, but I'm not rude either.

    2. No-no-no! You didn't say anything offensive. I simply meant that "chink" is indeed a derogatory and it never really bothered me 'til I met my good friend Lin!