The word hinky suggests a feeling of suspicion or heightened concern, as if something were off kilter, out of place or simply not right. A group of men standing on a street corner wearing masks could be considered hinky to a police officer, or a husband's explanation of his late arrival could sound hinky to his spouse. A suspected criminal's dubious details about his alibi could sound hinky to an interrogator. The word is often used to describe any questionable or suspicious turn of events which raises doubts in a person's mind.
The origin of the word hinky is a matter of debate. Some sources suggest the modern word hinky is a corruption of a black English slang word, hincty, popularized during the 1920s. A person described as hincty would be seen as snobbish or aloof, affecting a false tone of superiority or putting on airs. It is possible that the word hincty became corrupted in the more easily pronounceable hinky, although it is not clear how the original meaning would have shifted from snobbish and arrogant to shifty or out of place. This is one reason why other etymologists believe the two words are not directly related.
Another theory suggests that the word hinky originated as undercover police or organized crime lingo during the 1920s and 1930s. Several crime novels written during that time do use the word to describe a circumstance or turn of events which causes nervousness or heightened concerned. A nervous henchman may start acting jumpy or anxious, as if he were anticipating an impending attack or police raid. This twitchy or unsettling behavior is often described as hinky, inspiring the main character to become extra vigilant or guarded. The word has continued to morph, and now suggests anything which appears out of whack. Oftentimes the actual hinkiness is so subtle that a person relies more on the gut instinct it inspires.
As a pop culture saying, many people will use the term to describe any disturbing or concern-inducing behavior. A car's failing brakes could be described as hinky, for instance, or a neighbor's explanation about a noise. Oftentimes a sudden or unexpected change in a workplace policy or a school day routine can be characterized as hinky, especially if the change is not immediately followed by an explanation. Sometimes a series of small questionable events may cause a person to feel something hinky is occurring. When doubts and fears replace confidence in a given situation, a sensation of hinkiness afoot is rarely far behind.