PIP is often the answer to the crossword clue
[Beaut] or [“Great Expectations” boy”

PIP crossword meaning dot domino card beaut lulu One of 21 on a die Backup singer for Gladys Knight
image via Wokandapix

PIP is one of those crossword answers that not only has can arrive in any of several senses, but does so pretty equally.

Today’s use, as slang for something great, is echoed in clues like [Lulu] and [Doozy].

There’s not much known about how “pip” came be used that way, but my suspicion is that it comes from a PIP also being a [Spot on a playing card]. Since an [Ace has one], I wonder if “pip” evolved to be a [Humdinger], just as you’d say something is “aces.”

PIP crossword meaning dot domino card beaut lulu One of 21 on a die Backup singer for Gladys Knight

Another possibility: that [Vegas spot] that’s [One of hearts?] and a [Spot at the bridge table] is also a [Domino dot], a usage which I think predates the word’s connection to cards. Perhaps a such [Domino dimple]–any [One of 21 on a die]–brought to mind another sort of dot: a beauty mark.

Not only do traditional beauty marks bear a resemblance to to the dots on dice, but several varieties of so-called “beauty patches” looked very similar to the sort of PIP that could be a [Diamond or heart], [Spade or club, e.g.] on a card:

There’s some great stuff on these patches at Hair and Makeup Artist Handbook and Collectors Weekly.

Tracing the roots to the seed

The root of the word “pip” seems to trace at least back through the Old French pepin, meaning seed. In English, PIP is still used to refer to any [Small fruit seed], like a [Citrus seed, e.g.], or an [Apple seed]. It’s not hard to spot a resemblance between those little black apple seeds and the other pips.

Curiously, while a pépin in French is still a small seed, it has also come to be used for slang as a “small problem,” like a “hitch” or a “snag.” It also works as slang for two things that can help in pinch: it can be an “umbrella” and “parachute.”

That connection is evident when the [Celebrity chef Jacques] PEPIN, who is also something of an artist, signs with name with a little umbrella.

PIP crossword
image via Jacques Pepin Art

But as a seed and something small, the name seems to suit the 5’7″ chef. Whether or why PEPIN was apt for [Charlemagne’s father], the eighth century [Frankish king dubbed “the Short”], known in English as Pepin the Short, is harder to know. Just why he was known as Pépin le Bref is open to speculation.

In literature, PIP was spot on for the nickname of the [Dickens hero] Philip Pirrip, the [“Great Expectations” lad] who starts the book as a lowly orphan. And it’s right for Melville‘s [Cabin boy in “Moby-Dick”], who is “”the most insignificant of the Pequod’s crew.”

Gladys Knight and the Pips and the Pip Daddy Cousin

Finally, while a PIP would come to be known as [Backup singer for Gladys Knight], when the group started out, all five members were known as The Pips, including Knight. As that arrangement would suggest, “pip” there didn’t mean small or insignificant, as it does when it’s a [Start to squeak?].

Instead, the group, which consisted of Gladys, her brother, sister, and two cousins, picked up the nickname of another cousin, James “Pip” Woods. I haven’t been able to track down whether Woods’ nickname had to do with his stature, an affinity for dominoes or cards, or some other reason. (Please let me know if you do.)

In a sad coincidence, Knight herself, who lived in Vegas, would struggle profoundly with gambling addition before overcoming it. As she told the Los Angeles Times in 2011:

I got into gambling when I was playing a casino. I was a hermit in those days. I would go onstage, go to my room, or if we had to travel, I’d get in a car or a plane, whatever. But I didn’t do anything. One day, this friend of mine said, ‘Do you want to play some blackjack?’
So I started playing, and I enjoyed it. I started spending my time doing that. And you’re talking about a dollar table. (But) I remember when I graduated up to $20. And when my kids got in college – I’m telling you the real deal – I had gone through a nasty divorce, I spent over a million dollars looking for my son after he got kidnapped. And I was broke.

So while a PIP might look like a mere [Dot], once can find themselves in a [Spot in Vegas] for lack of a king or queen, either being [One in a Knight’s group].