Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 21 22:38:49 UTC 2011

You're correct, sir! My spell-checking technique proved insufficient in
the face of such a complicated name.

As for "ticky-tack", note that InfoPlease gives it as a variant--for the
noun. And the quick search gave a bunch of sports-related commentary,
specifically with "ticky-tacky". Searching for "ticky-tack" also picks
up a lot of news hits (not quite as many) but a vast majority of these
refer to "ticky-tack fouls" (particularly by coaches, such as Pat Riley
and Butch van Breda Kolff). One that particularly stands out is from
1978 Spokane Review: "But even that would have been /ticky-tack/." [
http://goo.gl/S2Zir ] A nitpicking call?

Either way, I wonder if the origin is in any way different if
"ticky-tack" is dominant. It has to be something that covers both
injuries and fouls--and, by extension, all referee's decisions. I can
see some alternative theories covering one or the other, but not both.
Hence the post.

Some of the alternative meanings for "ticky-tacky" in other contexts
(found in Wordnik quotes)--cheesy, kitch/kitchy, pastel,
overcommercialized, ubiquitous, pretentious, fake, imitation,
perfunctory, dull monotonous. The "tacky2" definitions that are
mentioned in both AHD and MWOLD include shabby, seedy, dowdy and gaudy.
Add tawdry to that, as MWOLD does, and it's a pretty solid list. I
suppose, most of both of these sets could be covered as somehow related
to the listed meanings for "ticky-tacky" (even if there is no separate
link to tawdry or tacky2).

Most of the citations I scanned from the 1960s and 2009-11 make no
mention of "cheap", which is the first word in most dictionary
definitions. But fake/imitative and undistinguished/repetitive are quite
common--which goes more with the context of the Little Boxes song than
with the actual use of the word in that song. In fact, "made out of
ticky-tacky" is quite rare, as adjectival use dominates. So, at the risk
of overstepping my bounds, I have to ask--are the dictionaries just
indiscriminately copying each other on this one without paying attention
to actual usage? And should not the etymology note make the most out of
the Little Boxes song--pointing out that /not only/ is the expression
used in other context because of its reduplicative property, but that
this became an entirely new usage, essentially a coinage?

On a slightly different note, when I first heard the song, hearing the
"ticky-tacky" lines made me think not of cheap materials, but of
plasticine, plasteline, play-dough--especially those coming in pastel
colors. In a sense, I associated it with tacky1 rather than tacky2. Also
note that I am following AHD and Random House/InfoPlease use of tacky1
and tacky2--OED has them in reverse. The n./adj. that implies shabby or
poor-taste is tacky 1 and the other one--sticky--is tacky adj.2 (and it
is in a dire need of an update--there are three quotes from 1788, 1822,
1897). I have no idea how the order is picked, but it often seems
counterintuitive--reversing both the chronological order and the order
of antecedents (in this case, tack) in some cases, but not others.

In any case, OED underdefines ticky-tacky and lacks ticky-tack
completely (the former even by comparison with other dictionaries--which
could use improvement on this as well; the latter in agreement with
them, despite 1400 raw news ghits alone).


On 11/21/2011 4:23 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> On Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 2:50 PM, Victor Steinbok
> <aardvark66 at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> Last night, during a discussion of the NBA lockout and its effect on the
>>> Boston Celtics, a female columnist talking on one of the late-night
>>> post-news sports talkshows commented on Rashan Rondo's "ticky-tacky
>>> injuries". The issue came up in the discussion of Rondo's apparent lack
>>> of shooting form over the past season. Apparently, during the Celtics'
>>> visit to the White House, Obama turned to Ray Allen and, pointing to
>>> Rondo, said, "Why can't you teach this guy how to shoot?" Rondo's
>>> fragile psyche apparently did not take it well, messing with his
>>> shooting. The woman (whose name I don't know) commented that, "Sure,
>>> there were some ticky-tacky injuries," but, for the most part, it was
>>> just a psychological problem.
> Minor emendation:  When they were still playing professional basketball, the Celtics' point guard was _Rajon_ Rondo, and I expect him to be again if they ever resume.
> (And I've usually heard such minor injuries described as "ticky-tack" rather than "ticky-tacky", pace the columnist.)
> LH

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