Fraser’s Phrases: Tickety Boo

Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster

I swear I’m not making these up, by the way.

The first third of the 20th Century was a fruitful time in the development of slang. It was the jazz age, which brougnt a lot of ragtime silliness into the vocabulary, and then there were the flappers and the Bertie Woosters, with their insistance on dropping the ends off words and inventing astonishingly ripe exclamations.

And it’s against this backdrop that “tickety-boo” first appears. The phrase means the same thing as “a-OK” or “fine and dandy” and is used in much the same way, as a overexuberant response to someone asking how things are.

It’ll have cropped up in conversation like this:

Dapper Gent 1: “I say old fruit, how’s everything going with you and that adorable filly from the meat-packing plant?”
Dapper Gent 2: “Couldn’t be better old thing. Tickety-boo, in fact.”

And again, slang being what it is, the phrase has fallen out of common use, apart from the places where it has not. Canada, for example, appears to be more familiar with it than parts of Britain. However, every now and then someone will trot it out, either out of a sincere love for archaic slang or because they’re trying to appear wordy. In any case, it’s got that optimistic ’20s energy to it, and that’s always fun.

And if you want to fool someone British into believing you think you’re at the cutting edge of UK slang, DO trot this out, they won’t know what to do.

As with a lot of slang terms which appear to be nothing but random syllables rammed together for larks, there are different theories as to where it came from.

Some believe it dates from British colonial rule in India, and is related to the Hindi expression “tickee babu”, meaning something like “everything’s alright, sir.” Others spell it “diggity boo” or “tiggity boo,” just to further muddy the waters.

It seems most likely that the phrase is a jazzification (a word which really should exist) of the phrase “just the ticket,” which effectively means “a perfect outcome.” The clouds parting to reveal a blazing sun during a bicycle ride to the coast? Just the ticket. A smile from a pretty girl (or boy) when you’ve just been dumped? Just the ticket. And if they come over and give you a kiss?

Well that would be tickety boo, old thing. Simply top hole.

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Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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