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I heard myself saying something was "tickety-boo", meaning good, successful, or satisfactory. Does anyone know where this strange-sounding phrase originated?

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A quick Google search turned up this post on World Wide Words. "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”." – Rahul Jan 29 '11 at 8:44
    
@Rahul, thank you. Again, I forgot to look on World Wide Words. – Brian Hooper Jan 29 '11 at 9:30
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@Rahul: You ought to also post that as an answer, rather than a comment. – Kosmonaut Jan 29 '11 at 18:31
up vote 10 down vote accepted

ठीकहैंबाबू (tikai bābū) means "Yes, sir" in Hindi.


[EDIT]
The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang

tickety-boo adjective fine, correct, in order, satisfactory. Originally military; a variation of 'ticket', as in just the ticket (correct), with Hindu [Hindi, —ed.] tikai babu (it's all right, sir) UK 1939.

The proper Hindi phrase is ठीक हैं बाबू /theak hai, babu/ (Okay, Sir) —ed.

The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang By Eric Partridge, Tom Dalzell, Terry Victor, Tom Dalzell; Routledge. (c); see: GoogleBooks

See also:
on phrases.org
Dalya Goldberger, 'Origins' on writersblock.ca

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Would make sense, since 'tickety-boo' is most commonly used in British English. – Mark Maxham Jan 29 '11 at 8:36
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+1 Also for the effort in going devnagari for the purpose. Should have included references. – Kris Nov 20 '12 at 5:00
    
I'm fairly certain the Partridge dictionary isn't copyright Google Books. – Hugo Nov 20 '12 at 11:21
    
@Hugo No. It is copyright in parts by various entities. That is the reason it is merely left as (c). Google Books is the source link, not the copyright holder's reference. I am adding a semicolon there. :) – Kris Nov 20 '12 at 13:06

Or from Arabic - tiktiboo (transliterated) means 'you (m.pl.) write'. From the days of the Anglo-Egyptian army and the need for each soldier to write his name/moniker against his monthly salary cash payment. Once they had tiktiboo, all was tickety-boo!?

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Have you any evidence for this suggestion? – Colin Fine Jul 3 at 16:25
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What would be the expression written/said in Arabic? Any references about soldiers needing to sign their payslips or cheques (tiktiboo) would be greatly welcomed and would also help confirm your answer! – Mari-Lou A Jul 3 at 16:37

Slang dictionary discussions of the term

Jonathon Green, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1984) seems far less sure about the etymology of tickety-boo than the authors of The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang seem to be. Here is Green's entry for the term:

ticketty-boo n. fine, wonderful, all in order, etc. fr. that's the ticket (?); orig. naval use.

As for Eric Partridge, he and his successors ran through a number of possibilities over the years. From Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, fifth edition (1961):

tickety-boo, all. 'Everything in the garden is lovely. No complaints,' [Wilfred] Granville [A Dictionary of Naval Slang (1945)]: Naval: since ca. 1925. All is 'the ticket' [cross reference omitted]; perhaps boo recalls Fr. tout. More prob. ex tiggerty-boo.

...

tiggerty-boo; esp. in 'Everything's all tiggerty-boo'—correct, arranged, safe, etc.: R.A.F. (regulars): since ca. 1922. [C.H.] Jackson, [It's a Piece of Cake 1943], 'From the Hindustani teega'; [Eric] Partridge, [A Dictionary of R.A.F. Slang] 1945, 'For the second element, cf. peek-a-boo' [in the sense of "a very sketchy salute"].

From Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, eighth edition (1984):

ticketty-boo; tickety-boo; tiggerty-boo. Correct; arranged; safe; satisfactory: Services', perhaps orig. RAF; since early 1920s. The 3rdis perhaps the oldest form: Jackson derives it ex 'the Hindustani teega'; this has prob. been influenced by ticket, n., 5, as in just the ticket, absolutely correct; Partridge, 1945, 'For the second element, cf. peek-a-boo {a sketchy salute}'. Also Civil Service since ca. 1945. All forms are occ. written solid. 'A Guards officer was in charge of all the correspondents {for the funeral of King George VI, 1952} .... his voice half-strangled with grief, he just said, "I'm quite sure that everything must be tickety-boo on the day of the race."' (Miss Audrey Russell, MVO, in Sunday Telegraph mag., 26 Aug. 1979). Another suggested etym. is ex Hindi tiki babu, 'it's all right, sir'. Cf. teek-hi, q.v., with its variants tickeye and tig.

Here is the cited entry for teek-hi in the same dictionary:

teek-hi! All right!: army, esp. men with service in India: earlier C.20. In Malaya, in the 1950s, men of the Gurkha Regiments were still sometimes greeted by 'Ram, ram, Johnnie! Teek-hi!' Ex Hindustani thik, precise, exact ([Henry Y[ule] & [A.C.] B[urnell, Hobson–Jobson, rev. ed., 1903]). Also written tickeye, and ca. 1930–50, often shortened to tig.

The most recent theory, from the 2008 edition of The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang, as cited in Malvolio's answer, and repeated in The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2015) may be seen either as the decisive identification of the origin of an etymologically difficult term or as the latest brave (but provisional) pronouncement in a long line of speculative efforts by Partridge and his successors.

Nevertheless, John Ayto & John Simpson, Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (2010) remains noncommittal:

tickety-boo adjective Also ticketty-boo, tiggity-boo, etc. dated, Brit All right; in order. 1939—. S. Rushdie Everything's in fine fettle, don't you agree? Tickety-boo, we used to say (1981). {Orig. uncertain: perh. from Hindi thík hai all right; [cross reference omitted]}


Early instances of the term in Google Books search results

The earliest instance of any form of the term in Google Books search results is as a joke name in an anecdote that seems to have nothing to do with the armed services or India. From " ... De Luxe," in The Motor (1938 (combined snippets):

A little story from one of my chief snoopers.

The Picardy Grand Prix providing the excuse, Charles Definitely Eighteen Stone Follett and one other (known to his acquaintances as Lord Ticketyboo) decided to cross the Channel. Travelling, of course, in the Grand Manner. That is, by luxurious motorcar to Newhaven, and from Dieppe by super-luxury automobile sent specially from Paris. All details arranged on the Paris phone and no questions asked, which, as you will see, had entirely unforeseen consequences.

No further description of the lord is given, other than that he and Charles were "two large English gentlemen travelling in the Grand Manner."

The next match is from "The Battle of Britain Opens with the Greatest Air Attack in History," in Life magazine (August 26, 1940):

"Thumbs Up" is Britain's Spirit of 1940, here given by three girls caught in in the Aug. 15 bombing of London's huge Croyden Airport. They are singing the latest English doggerel which runs:

"Put your thumbs up and say it's Tiggerty Boo,

We're going to show the world who's who.

And this is how you end your little chorus:

Thumbs up, Tiggerty Boo, Tiggerty Boo."

Evidently a number of orchestras recorded versions of "Tiggerty-Boo" in 1940. The Gramaphone, volume 18 (1940) offers these comments:

Gracie Fields gives us Indian Summer and the famous I never cried so much in all my Life, both recorded from a broadcast with audience on Col[umbia] FB2463, while there are two records by Jack WarnerEntente Cordiale and Mademoiselle on Col[umbia] FB2454 and Tiggerty-Boo and Auxiliary Fireman Cecil on FB2469. I did not find these funny, and for Tiggerty-Boo I suggest Harry Roy on Regal MR3335.

An issue of The Motor refers to a "tuneless dirge" by the name of "Ticketyboo" (presumably the same song that everyone else was describing as plucky and upbeat); and elsewhere in that same issue the word appears, for the first time in Google Books search results, as a descriptive term. From The Motor, volume 78 (1941) [combined snippets]:

Not like that story of the soldier who intended to take a cycle tour of Germany after the war, which elicits the reply: "What will you do in the afternoon?" That crops up several times a day in the B.B.C. programmes, like that tuneless dirge " Ticketyboo."

and:

He suggested that as the car was only about a mile away, the owner should push it that short distance.

Suggestion declined. Eventually the manager said that if the written permission of a policeman could be obtained for a supply of petrol delivered in a can for use in a particular car to which the coupons related, all would be ticktyboo.

Other early Google Books matches for the tickety-boo used as a word (rather than as a name) also come from the early 1940s. From "What Are Your New Year Resolutions for 1942?" in New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, volume 62 (1941):

So I cling hopefully and eagerly to the old adage: "Wish wisely and wish well, for what you really wish for will surely come to pass."—Tiggety Boo, Kati Kati.

From Nora Cassera, [article title not visible], in The Gregg Shorthand Magazine, volume 9 (1942) [combined snippets]:

I rather think that the engaging young fellow referred to above would like to be able to speak perfect English on certain occasions, and write it, too. One day he may find that it matters. To his work. To his self-respect. Of course, if he hasn't a pin's worth of ambition, everything is ticketty-boo. (His expression, not mine!)

From Sir John Hammerton, The War Illustrated, volume 7 (1943) [snippet not viewable in window], an instance that cites Hindustani origin:

The naval expression which means "quite correct" is given as "tiggerty-boo;" it more often has the sound of "tickety-boo;" it comes a Hindustani word. Service Slang ignores it.

This instance is perhaps most interesting for the fact that Hammerton considers the term to be of Hindustani origin—a view that M.G. Arnold in a postwar issue of American Notes and Queries [combined snippets] endorses:

"Tickety-boo" (6:7). Lord Mountbatten, now Governor General of India, is credited in the New York Times Magazine (June 22, 1947, p. 45) with "giving currency" to the phrase "tickety-boo" (or "tiggerty-boo"). This Royal Navy term for "okay" is derived from the Hindustani teega.

And from George Weller, Singapore Is Silent (1943):

The situation in the Far East for twenty years had been one comparable to that in a baseball infield when a very high pop fly is hit over the pitcher's head and begins falling at a point in the triangle between pitcher, shortstop, and second base.

...

Meantime the ball was falling, faster and bigger. "Righto, I'll take it," the Briton said, sending another half-dozen antiquated planes to Singapore.

"Have you got it, John?" the second baseman yelled, just to be sure.

"All ticketyboo," said the Briton self-assuredly.


Conclusions

Eric Partridge seems to have been very confident that both the RAF (since circa 1922) and the British Navy (since circa 1925) were using forms of tickety-boo by the mid-1920s—and since he was quoting from books of service slang completed in 1944 and 1945, his sources were probably in a position to know about it first-hand.

Nevertheless, after slowly percolating through British culture for almost two decades, the term seems to have hit the big time because of a silly song of that name [originally spelled "Tiggerty-Boo") that became popular as a national morale booster in the summer of 1940, a particularly grim period for the UK during World War II.

Authorities have differed (and changed their minds) about the probable etymology of the term, and opinion today is still far from unanimous. Many commentators, however, going back to as early as 1943, have identified the term as originating in a Hindi expression meaning "It's all right, sir," as Malvolio noted in an answer five years ago.

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