It’s all tickety boo

You want the American stereotype of British English? The phrase tickety boo comes as close as anything I can think of. It sounds like something that escaped from a 1920s comedy involving a butler who wears a bowler hat to hide his brains and a dim-witted aristocrat who needs a top hat to accommodate his sense of entitlement. Oh, and there’d be a lot of alcohol—martinis, probably—and women (strictly secondary characters) in what were then scandalously short skirts and are now scandalously modest.

Strangely, though, tickety boo is something people still say. Right now, in—what year is this anyway? Twenty something or other. And not clueless aristocrats either. Ordinary hatless, butlerless people who I know.

Or whom I know if you insist.

moose 005

Oh, and did I mention that we got a puppy? He’s the one of the right: nine weeks old and named (what else?) Moose.

So shut up, Ellen, and tell the good people what tickety boo means. It means is okay. or everything’s fine. It has an every little thing’s in place sound to it, although none of the definitions I found in my extensive five-minute Google search mention this. Still, my ear insists on it, and puts the emphasis on little.

It’s informal, as you might have guessed from the sound.

The Urban Dictionary says the origin may be Scottish, but along with the Oxford Dictionary it traces the origins, tentatively to Hindi, although the two dictionaries quote different versions of a Hindi phrase—or (let’s be skeptical) an allegedly Hindi phrase. If I had to bet on one version, I’d put my money on the Oxford one, but let’s not pretend I know anything about this. Oxford sounds impressive and its phrase sounds less like something an ear tuned exclusively to English might have mangled .

How a phrase originates in Scotland and India I don’t know, but to demonstrate the phrase’s Scottish roots, the Urban Dictionary refers to Danny Kaye singing “Everything is Tickety Boo” in a film I never heard of, Merry Andrew. Convincing stuff, right? Kaye was an American actor—the New York-born son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants whose original name was Kaminsky, which I’m reasonably sure isn’t Scottish or Hindi.

Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, so maybe we can make some sort of backing for the theory there.

Do you begin to get the sense that everything isn’t quite tickety boo about all this? That maybe some of the sources you find through Google aren’t perfectly researched? Maybe even that guesswork is involved in tracing word origins?

The Collins Dictionary, playing it safe, says the origin is obscure. Several sources say the phrase is outdated, even archaic. Which would imply that my friends are archaic. Sorry, but we’re not having any of that.

The Oxford Dictionary adds, helpfully, that tickety boo rhymes with buckaroo, poo-poo, shih tzu, Waterloo, and many, many other words that wouldn’t spring to mind if you were going for logical connection instead of pure sound. If anyone would like to use those in a rhymed, metered poem and submit it to the Comments section, I will shoot myself. Although not necessarily with a gun.


In Tuesday’s post I left some of you with unanswered questions—which bless your tickety little hearts, you asked—about why I’m cutting back my posting schedule. I didn’t mean to be cryptic or to worry anyone. Here’s what’s happening:

Ever since Wild Thing was diagnosed with macular degeneration and had to quit driving, I’ve been thinking about posting less often. Not necessarily forever, but for now. The changes in our lives haven’t been easy to get used to, either emotionally or practically, and one result is that I haven’t been keeping up with the details of my life lately.

While I was arguing with myself over whether or not to cut back, I got a bad cold, which came close on the heels of a miserable flu, and on Monday night I realized I had nothing at all to say for Tuesday’s post. The only thought in my head was, Do we have enough cold pills? So that tipped me over the edge. If I’d a bit more room in my head for thoughts, I might have said all this in Tuesday’s post but I didn’t and so I couldn’t.

I’m pulling back from some other commitments as well and hoping all this will leave me time to moult—you know, drop old feathers, grow new ones, maybe some listen to music more often, do more baking, spend more time with Wild Thing, and do more work on the book I’m theoretically writing. Maybe even shovel out the house a bit more often.

But you’re not rid of me yet. I’ll be around on Fridays. And already I’m missing my old schedule.

61 thoughts on “It’s all tickety boo

  1. As I was leaving Warterloo
    I spied a man with a small shih tzu
    I sat on a log
    and greeted the dog
    hoping it didn’t poo poo!
    The man said hello
    but I had to go
    no time to play buckaroo!
    As I went on my way
    I just had to say
    that all was tickety boo!

    Please don’t shoot yourself…I couldn’t resist!

    Liked by 6 people

    • I can’t imagine saying “Oops a daisy” to anyone old enough to be out of diapers. It’s a great phrase but my associations with it are entirely with toddlers falling over. I’m not even going to try to explain that. But yes, hearing tickety boo does make me want to giggle.


  2. Bertie Wooster had a nice variant on “tickety boo” – “tickety tonk”, which i like even more.

    Love your posts by the way, but I quite understand why you want to cut back on the frequency of posting. And I hope the NHS is coming up with good to treat WT’s macular degeneration. There was a bit of a row a few years ago about what drugs the NICE committee would recommend funding for: Lucentis vs Avastin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I can’t remember which she’s getting. Is there a difference in their effectiveness? (Every time I read about NICE–even before the budget squeezes that have made work in the NHS so difficult–I’ve been grateful that I don’t have to make those decisions. They must weigh heavily, at least if the people who make the decisions retain their humanity.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • NICE recommends Lucentis, but there’s a controversy about it, as Avastin is apparently much cheaper.
        BBC News website 24 April 2012:”NHS faces judicial review from Novartis over Avastin” (
        BBC News website 21 November 2014: “Eye specialists call for NHS to use Avastin” ( –
        “…Recent studies have concluded Avastin is just as effective and safe as Lucentis….Doctors can prescribe it “off-label”, but they are only supposed to do that if there is no suitable licensed drug. …”

        I remember all this brewing a few years ago when I used to listen to BBC Radio 4’s programme for blind and partially-sighted people “In Touch”. (Well worth listening to by the way –


        • We’ll check out the Radio 4 program. Thanks. I hadn’t heard of it. I’m an semi-avid listener–I only listen in the car or when I’m cooking, but it has fantastic programming. Now that you explain the Avastin/Lucentis uproar, yes, I remember hearing about it but it was before it had become personally relevant and it went in one ear and out the other without leaving much more than a trace of sound behind. Which explains why the names are so familiar to me, even though I remembered nothing about them.


  3. You and Wild Think deserve to cocoon for a while. It’s good for us from time to time. Love Moose. And, as for tickety-boo, because of Danny Kaye, I’d always associated it with America. But then, I grew up in South Africa and yes, of British parentage, but it’s a phrase they never used. Hmmm….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely explanation – I love it when the reader can choose whichever sounds more fun! Scottish-Hindi is a nice mix, I’d have gone for archaic but you’ve vouched for your friends, so that’s out. Glad you have your cuddly doggies with you, do relax and take it easier: if you delight us with a blog like this one every Friday, there’s really nothing we can complain about :)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha! So you did actually devote a post to “tickety boo”. I’m honoured. What’s with the Scottish nonsense. I’m Scottish and obviously use the phrase but I’m not planting a saltire into it. It’s definitely from the raj era because it’s got that sort of cadence to it, like “tiffin” and “cushy” and “toddy”, “blighty” and “pukka”. Writing these all out in a row, it strikes me how childish they all sound too. So nations were colonized and their people oppressed and brutalized for hundreds of years by people using words that sound like they come from a nursery rhyme.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I meant to link to your blog but somehow never got it done. Sorry. Good intentions. Roads and paving. You know how it goes.

      Love your description of the colonizers. The only words on your list that I would have known linked to the raj were pukka and tiffin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh that’s no bother. I may have started the conversation with my usage in the comments section but then the discussion took on a life of its own. There are loads of raj era words in British English such as pajamas and bungalow that we don’t even think of as “foreign” any more – because British English colonises and purloins just as its empire builders once did.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. And a puppy- that’s a lot going on! I love the puppy stage- when it’s someone else’s puppy. Ours should theoretically be out of the puppy stage, however, that hasn’t stopped her from eating Christmas ornaments off the tree.


    • The puppy–. How can I say this? If it had been up to me, I’d have timed it differently. But they do get older. As I keep reminding myself. Our tree this year is small and on a low table, so I think it’s small-dog proof. I’m not sure about the cat. He’s never seen one before. Wheee.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I think that tickety boo, nearly extinct a bit back, was given a new lease of life as a result of being much used by the main character in the British sit com “One Foot in the Grave.” Eric Partridge’s dictionary of British slang says nothing about Scotland, but does mention Hindustani and Hindi possibilities. For me the most convincing is the Hindi “tikai babu” – “it’s all right sir.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like so much of British popular culture, “One Foot in the Grave” must predate our move here. In fact, I never even heard of it. But it’s interesting that such a–am I going to say this? Yeah, I think I am–fussy-sounding phrase managed a revival. I don’t know a lot of people who use it, but the ones who do aren’t even remotely fussy or Bertie Woosterish.


  8. Leaving you time to moult…love this and how true! Many big changes for me in the beginning of the new year, I will definitely be moulting as well. Let’s hope the predators do not notice and pounce during my time of vulnerability…. and love your new furball addition (!)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve never heard of tickety boo (can I admit that without a Native snatching back my anglophile flag?), but loved how Danny Kaye cracked up Bing Crosby in “White Christmas.” And weren’t they sort of moulting boa feathers at one point in that movie? I don’t remember a puppy, but they did have horses. And lots of sappy staring into space. Which should be on everyone’s moulting checklist. That and hot toddies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The last time I watched a Danny Kaye film (and I can’t remember which one it was) I thought he had brilliant moments but in between them the film was completely forgettable. As was the one I saw before that, which I’ve also forgotten except for the brilliant moments. I haven’t seem White Christmas in decades, but if as a whole it holds up I’m glad to know he was in one film that was worthy of him.

      I don’t think anyone’s coming for your flag, but if they do you now know the phrase so you get to snatch it back.

      Liked by 1 person

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