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What is the origin of a pinky promise?

It is the 5th birthday of a little girl I have known since before she was born. I was there in the hospital waiting anxiously for her arrival with her extended family and she was my first truly newborn. I was so scared of this new little life, I wept in her hospital room. Fast forward five years and she is a storm of fiery brilliance. Now, I'm only worried because she is fearless... this girl will try anything! She's learning new things constantly and teaching us almost as fast. She might be the number one contributor to the Daily Doodle questions! So on her birthday I honor her with a "pinky promise" Daily Doodle.


Interestingly enough, the origins of a pinky promise are much more extreme than I was anticipating! I mean, I'm sure you've heard of the "cross my heart and hope to die" promises, but a pinky promise somehow seemed... softer. Maybe it's because I have small pinkies and they just don't see all that threatening.


It is thought the pinky promise originated with the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia who takes loyalty very seriously. It is said the pinky promise was in fact just that. The promise if you broke this promise you would lose your pinky. Yep, cut right off. At least the trust you'd build would be pretty strong, I suppose.


The pinky swear can be traced all around the globe. The term has been used in the US as a way to make an unbreakable vow since at least the 1860s when it was mentioned in John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms.


Throughout history, it seems the pinky finger is always used to signify unbreakable promises. For example, there is an East Asian tradition that involves wedded couples tying a red thread on their pinky. The thread signifies destiny and is tied in hopes of connecting the two together eternally (now that seems more my speed).


Hopefully you consider the extreme history next time you make a pinky promise, though maybe go easy on the 5-year-old you're sharing it with... I know I am.




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