The expression “tickled pink” is derived from the 1600s meaning of “tickle” which is to give pleasure or gratify. The word “pink” is, no doubt, derived from the fact that one’s face may turn pink or red with the rosy glow of pleasure.
Synonyms: delighted, pleased, thrilled, overjoyed.
The use of “tickling” to mean pleasure is represented in the following quotes, dating back to the early 1600s.
— Samuel Hieron, Works, 1617: “Well might they haue their eares ticled with some pleasing noise.”
— Rollin’s Ancient History, 1734: “Eating in Egypt was designed not to tickle the palate but to satisfy the cravings of nature.”
— Nathaniel Hawthone’s Passages from the French and Italian note-books, 1864: “Something that thrilled and tickled my heart with a feeling partly sensuous and partly spiritual.”
— St. Nicholas (magazine for boys and girls), 1907: “I’m tickled to death to find some one with what they call human emotions.”
But the phrase “tickled pink” does not appear to have originated until the early 1900s.
It is first seen in print in a 1910 piece published in the Illinois paper The Daily Review: “Grover Laudermilk was tickled pink over Kinsella’s move in buying him from St. Louis.”
Because the expression was included in a newspaper article, it is probable that the writer assumed readers would already be familiar with it, meaning it may have been a popular phrase before appearing in print.
Perhaps we could apply the phrase to someone coming from a seaside holiday with sunburnt face. But it would probably be more accurate to say, “peeling pink.”