Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 21 19:50:35 UTC 2011

Perhaps Jon Lighter can share his files, once again.

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.

Try as I might, I have no idea what she meant by "ticky-tacky". I recall
the term coming up in a discussion somewhere fairly recently, but it
does not appear to be here. In any case, the last time I heard it, it
was in the context of the Malvina Reynolds song Little Boxes.

> Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of tickytacky
> Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
> There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
> And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

Oddly enough, I first heard the song fairly recently, sung by a woman
(Kay Stonham? Regina Spektor?), not by Pete Seeger (who adopted it in
1963 or 1964) and not by Reynolds (with her distinct raspy voice). There
are so many covers (Linkin Park, Death Cab for Cutie, Rise Against, etc.)

Most dictionary definitions, including the OED, follow the song
(earliest OED citation is the song).

Definition of TICKY-TACKY
1: of an uninspired or monotonous sameness
2: tacky
3: built of ticky-tacky

1.    Made of shoddy material; cheaply built.
2.    a. Marked by a mediocre uniformity of appearance or style:
ticky-tacky rows of look-alike houses.
        b. Tawdry; tacky.

There is a bit of an expansion on the theme here:

But most of that information is in Wiki.

This raises two questions: 1) what on earth is ticky-tacky? and 2) how
is it related to basketball? ... and, apparently, football?

> For the Iona Gaels, there are multiple guards worth talking about.
> Iona took Purdue down to the wire and if it wasn't for a few
> ticky-tacky fouls that went against Iona at the end of this one, one
> of which led to Scott Machado fouling out, this could of had a
> different result.

> We complain when terrible calls go against us, so it's only fair to
> point out that the offensive pass interference called on Brandon
> Marshall was just plain terrible. Ticky tacky is very generous way to
> put it.

> Raven penalties.  Nary had a one called against us where I felt as in
> recent weeks, where did that come from.  Reed's may have been a little
> ticky-tacky, but I believe the rules are very specific about what you
> can and cannot do with a football vis-à-vis an opposing player at the
> end of a play--so I am not really all that upset with the refs on that
> one.

> Officiating in the Monday night game was questionable, though it did
> not determine the outcome. The offensive pass interference call
> against San Diego's Antonio Gates, nullifying a touchdown, was
> ticky-tacky.

> The refs dressed as vampires.  They just suck the blood out of this
> team-- ticky-tacky penalties, phantom penalties not called--how many
> times was our collective D-line unit held but not called?

> I suspect the official who sidelined Allen on a ticky-tacky foul was
> simply unaware of the foul situation.

Is this one related?

> "Certain Prey" may be ticky-tacky, but Mr. Harmon knows how to deliver
> what many of the 19 million people who watch "NCIS" every week are
> looking for.

A bit of antedating as an aside--OED has adj. only to 1969.

The News and Courier - Mar 3, 1964 [Charleston, SC]
Doing The Charleston. By Ashley Cooper. p. 6-A/3
> To save face, he announced that his new apartments will "conform" to
> Charleston architectural tradition. This means he will veneer his
> /ticky-tacky/ boxes with old brick, and hang up a brass lamp. Old
> brick tacky!

The Bulletin - May 19, 1964 [Bend/Central Oregon]
They Moved to Suburbs to Get Away from Those Folk Singers. By Dick West
(UPI). p. 4/7
> In /ticky-tacky/ country, those names apparently have more sales
> appeal than would south Layhill," "West Parkland" and "East Colony."

Perhaps even earlier (GB tags as 1963, but it includes multiple volumes).

Planning. Volumes 29-32. 1963-7[?] [p. 62/3?]
> I am seriously disturbed by the too-apt description of our suburban
> development in a current song hit as 'little boxes made of ticky-
> tacky,' and I am most concerned about these ticky-tacky houses
> becoming ticky-tacky communities.

And another from the same period--again, multiple volumes.

Water Well Journal. Volumes 17-18. 1963-4 [?] [p. 82/2?]
> I am reminded of a currently popular song about people being fitted
> into "little boxes" and turned out "all the same." Perhaps "urban
> sprawl" is an involuntary reaction to "ticky tacky." If you haven't
> found out what "ticky tacky" is, I have brought a newspaper article.
> It is delightful. This is a concept on which there is by no means a
> unanimity of opinion.

There are three more multi-volume cites from 1963+--the Sierra Club
Bulletin, the Catholic Psychological Record and Landscape. Both the
Reynolds version of 1962-3 and the Pete Seeger version of 1963-4 were
quite popular, although they did not quite chart immediately (Seeger got
as high as 70, I believe). So references to the "current song" or
"currently popular song" could be anywhere from 1963 to 1965.

An unsurprising (onomatopoetic) earlier use in description of tap dancing:

Steps in Time. By Fred Astaire. 1959
> I didn't have time to routine a new set of ticky-tacky taps each week
> so I would ad lib each dance and hop into a finish step when I knew I
> was about twelve bars or so from home.

The above text is from the preview, but the snipped shows something

> Here I found that the only effective steps for radio were those with a
> lot of taps close together--a string of
> ricky-ticky-ticky-tacky-ticky-tacky taps.

Not the same... ignore this one... There are also some similar
references to clocks and watches (one even suggesting that "ticky-tacky"
is "German for ticktock"). Plus some folk tales that make more use of

Another one from 1947-8 (some dispute as to the publication date--I
requested a local library copy).

Dark companion. By Bradley Robinson. 1947
> Some plunged for the nearest bar to swill a vile distillation of rice
> and alcohol at a cost of ten cents a quart, and then staggered up
> dingy, unpaved alleys in search of "ticky-tacky" girls

The Ontario reports: cases determined in the Supreme Court of Ontario
(Appellate and High Court divisions)., Volume 16, Issue 1889
p. 497
> Evidence was received that there is a forced road known as
> "Ticky-Tacky Road", shown on Ex. 3, but there is no evidence which
> indicates that this road was in lieu of the concession road allowances
> in question herein.

This date GB actually might have gotten right--but there is no way to
tell if it's not multiple volumes strung together (seems unlikely for a
court reporter). There is another Canadian geographic reference to
"Ticky-Tacky Point" (1952). But nothing about "ticky-tacky" material
prior to the song.

Now, back to the noun.


>  A. n.
>   Inferior or cheap material, esp. that used in uniform suburban building.

IMO, even the chosen examples (starting with the Reynolds song) support
this interpretation.

But AHD agrees:

> Shoddy material, as for the construction of standardized housing.

So does MWOLD:

> sleazy or shoddy material used especially in the construction of
> look-alike tract houses; /also/ *:* something built of ticky-tacky

Random House--and InfoPlease with it--reverses the n/adj relationship:

> --adj.
> 1. shoddy and unimaginatively designed; flimsy and dull: a row of new,
> ticky-tacky bungalows.
> 2. tacky2.
> --n.
> ticky-tacky material or something made of it, esp. housing. Also,
> tick'y-tack".

The song certainly uses the noun, not the adjective. But the citations
in GB and GNA all seem to involve the adjective (for 1963-5).

AHD and MWOLD both cite first use in 1962. None of the dictionaries
credit Reynolds or her song with the coinage. And none have a definition
that translates to "ticky-tacky injuries" and "ticky-tacky foul" ("cheap
foul"? perhaps...). And, once the definition for these is discerned,
should it end up in a dictionary? (or only in HDAS?)


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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