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Q From Christopher Key: Several of my Canadian friends use the term tickety-boo to describe an event that is proceeding quickly. Any idea where this one originates?

A It’s certainly common in Canada, but is very probably British in origin. The usual meaning, by the way, is more that something is satisfactory, all in order, or OK.

We can’t be sure what its origin is. Eric Partridge always contended that the word was forces’ slang, most probably from the Royal Air Force, and that it dates from the early 1920s or thereabouts (though the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t find a written example before 1939). Considering the number of Canadians who flew with the RAF during World War II, its move to Canada isn’t surprising.

The difficult bit is taking the word back any further than the 1920s. It could combine that’s the ticket — with much the same sense — with the childish phrase peek-a-boo. But some find a link with the British Army in India, suggesting it comes from the Hindi phrase tikai babu, which is translated as “it’s all right, sir”.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 8 Apr. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 8 April 2000.