Answer Man: What's the story behind 'binky'?

News-DemocratJuly 13, 2013 

Being a relatively new parent, I am intrigued by how many people refer to a pacifier as a "binky." How did that term originate? -- Jane McMahon, of O'Fallon

I wish I had an answer that could pacify you, but all I can do is give you intelligent guesses to chew on.

The best theory seems to be that the word "binky" was coined sometime in the late 1800s, perhaps right here in the central United States. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, binky was a folk term used in western Indiana circa 1912 to describe "any little mechanical contrivance."

But the thinking is that the word may have been in use for many years to describe anything both small and inconsequential or cute. One possible explanation from the Straight Dope's website suggests that perhaps some mother or even child using typical cutesy-wootsy baby talk referred to a blanket as a binky. Eventually, the term may have attached itself to anything that soothed a infant. Finally, thanks to Playtex, it wound up as a synonym for pacifier -- but more on that in a second.

They certainly weren't calling them binkies when mothers tried anything to calm their crying child and rest their sore nipples. In 1873, writer Cecilia Viets Jamieson described a "sugar-teat," which was a spoonful of sugar wrapped in a piece of linen and tied with thread for infants to suck on. It probably didn't get the American Dental Association's seal of approval.

Similar tricks were tried all over the world. Some Europeans would wrap meat or fat in cloth and then perhaps wet it with brandy to get the kid a little snockered. Some Germans used sweetened bread or poppy seeds. You can see such a pacifier as early as 1506 in an Albrecht Durer painting of a Madonna and child.

Binky also wouldn't apply to the corn cobs that English mothers gave their youngsters nor teething rings made of silver or gold with coral or mother of pearl for the privileged child of the late 1700s in Colonial America. No, the word "Binky" may have been introduced to the world when the Playtex company took the regional slang word and trademarked it in about 1935 for their brand of pacifiers. Now like Kleenex or thermos or Xerox, the baby-talk word that essentially means nothing is so universally accepted as to have become generic.

What has become of sports reporter Maurice Drummond on KTVI-TV? And, while I'm thinking about it, didn't Betsey Bruce used to be on KMOV? When did she switch stations? -- C.S., of Fairview Heights

Moving up the St. Louis TV sports chain of command is like trying to wrest me from my Answer Man chair: You're going to wait a long, long time. So if an opportunity opens up across town, you'd better jump on it.

That's what Maurice Drummond has done. After 10 years of reporting at KTVI, he likely thought that Channel 2 sports director Martin Kilcoyne wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. So when Steve Savard pulled a Mike Bush and moved from sports to news last February, Drummond applied for and landed the top spot at KMOV-TV, Channel 4.

Drummond, who started out briefly at KDNL in 2002, will be the first new sports director in St. Louis since Rene Knott took over for Bush at KSDK nine years ago. As I said, these positions have about as much turnover as many Congressional seats: In addition to Knott, Kilcoyne has been around 12 years, Savard ruled the KMOV roost for 19 years, and Rich Gould has been entrenched at KPLR for 26 years.

"I've had many thrilling opportunities and moments over the last 10 years, which makes my decision now to leave bittersweet," Drummond said in a statement. "I will miss the people (at KTVI), but I am excited about the challenges ahead."

Of course, you may not see Drummond on News4 for a while. TV and radio personalities generally have non-compete clauses in their contracts that prohibit them from popping up on rival stations for a certain period after leaving their original station.

Speaking of longevity, I found your question about Bruce somewhat humorous, considering that she will be celebrating her 25th anniversary at KTVI next year. A media veteran since her junior high school days in Tonawanda, N.Y., Bruce graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and joined then-KMOX-TV in 1971 before moving to KTVI in 1989. She was elected to the St. Louis Television Media Hall of Fame in 2008.

Today's trivia

Who holds the record for longest U.S. Senate filibuster?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: When renowned Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe died in 1953, his widow, Patricia, became angry when Oklahoma refused to erect a memorial to him. So when she heard that Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pa., were looking to attract business, she struck a deal. Although born in Oklahoma, Thorpe blossomed at the Carlisle (Pa.) Indian Industrial School under the coaching of Pop Warner. So, the two boroughs, which are 100 miles northeast of Carlisle, bought Thorpe's remains, erected a monument, and merged as Jim Thorpe, Pa. Thorpe's family, however, is continuing its fight to bring Thorpe's body back to Oklahoma.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or

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