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Where does the phrase "peachy keen" come from? From m-w.com, I see that it originated in the 1950, but the phrase doesn't even make sense to me. Why is my peach keen?

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  • A young director who commited a murder used this phrase in ''Colmbo.” – user137595 Sep 5 '15 at 4:49
  • Additional usage: The character John Truett in Meet Me in Saint Louis (1944) uses "ginger peachy" a few times throughout the film, to express that something is good, wonderful, or lovely. – Max Feb 26 at 19:43
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Hawthorne

The adjective peachy keen was popularised and probably invented by LA DJ Jim Hawthorne around 1948.

Time Magazine

The OED has peachy-keen from 1951, but here's a couple of antedatings from Time Magazine in 1948.

First from Monday, May 10, 1948:

Radio: Peachy-Keen

Jim Hawthorne, a young Pasadena disc jockey, used to be bored with his job ($85 a week). Sometimes he would sign off with a sneer: "This is KXLA, the 10,000-watt jukebox." But he is bored with his job no longer.

One night, without notifying his bosses, Hawthorne suddenly turned his show into a carefree, wit-loose "Hellzapoppin on the air." Next day, before the station had time to fire him, the place was snowed under with fan mail. By last week, the scattyboo platter session was being broadcast over five Southern California stations ("the net-to-net coastwork of the Oh-So-Peachy-Keen Broadcasting Company").Both ABC and Mutual were dickering for national network rights. Hawthorne's salary is now $450 a week. The Hawthorne formula is a well- stirred ragout of one part Henry Morgan, three parts Arthur Godfrey and a dash of Colonel Stoopnagle; it is a blend of the outrageously unexpected and the shaggy dog joke. In the middle of a recording, voice may suddenly announce: "I've got cole slaw in all my pockets I'm cold." Sometimes Hawthorne heckles his lovesick records. "What are you in the mood for, honey?" he will ask during the opening bars of a song. "I'm in the mood for love," the record croons back.

Whatever adults — and sponsors — may think of such carryings-on, Hawthorne and his peculiar banana-split lingo have become the rage of Southern California's younger set. Most popular root word is "hogan" (example: "I was driving my carahogan in from Pasadena-hogan so I could get a hoganburger"). The young folks also overwork Hawthorne's favorite adjectives: keen, peachy-keen, and oh-so- peachy-keen.

Next from Monday, Oct. 11, 1948:

Music: Gumbo

The piece begins with a wolf call, and ends with all the instruments thrown into a corner. It is scored for ukulele, kazoo, hogan-twanger (wooden box and hacksaw blades), cardboard box, seal barks and an Indian elephant bell. It has words like this:

The boy I mean was oh-so peachy-keen,

A real gone guy from Goneville.

He was scattyboo and oogledy-too,

And he lived in Pasahogan.

The title of the piece spells Nature's Boy backwards. By last week Serutan Yob had sold 350,000 records, and Capitol was threatening to make at least a million.

(Both use the word scattyboo and other contemporary slang.)

Listen here and read the lyrics in full here. Wikipedia says:

A parody named "Serutan Yob" was recorded by The Unnatural Seven, an offshoot of Red Ingle and his Natural Seven that did not include Ingle due to the 1948 AFM recording ban. The record featured vocals from Karen Tedder and Los Angeles DJ Jim Hawthorne. It was released by Capitol Records as catalog number 15210. The record first reached the Billboard magazine charts on 1 October 1948 and lasted 4 weeks on the chart, peaking at No. 24.

There's that DJ's name again, Jim Hawthorne, who delivered the peachy-keen lines quoted above. The book Echo and Reverb: Fabricating Space in Popular Music Recording, 1900-1960 says it was released in August 1948 and can be found in the 11 September 1948 Billboard Magazine.

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Chapman & Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, Third Edition (1997) offers this not-very-illuminating entry:

peachy or peachy-keen adj. first form by 1900, second by about 1955 Excellent; wonderful; = GREAT, NEAT: ...this president's political health, which Wirthlin thinks is peachy—George Will

But this entry ignores what I take to be an essential element of the expression—the sense that the enthusiasm underlying unironic use of the term "peachy-keen" is immature, and hence the intimation that something referred to as "peachy-keen" is actually kid's stuff.

The earlier Wentworth & Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang (1960) captures this sense very neatly:

peachy-keen adj. 1 Excellent; fine. More often than not, used ironically. See peachy. [peachy adj. Excellent; attractive; wonderful; spectacular. 1951: "The reporter hasn't called the composing room and ordered a replate on a peachy murder." Syracuse N.Y., Post-Standard, Aug. 18, 12/6. 1952: "These periscopes are peachy, grandma." Charles Kuhn, "Grandma," synd. newsp. comic strip, May 29. Since c1900. Since c1930 primarily schoolboy use; adults more and more use the word ironically.] 2 All right; fair; not good enough to warrant enthusiasm but adequate. Fairly common since c1955. This combination of two words formerly associated with youthful enthusiasm to = just fair" or "adequate" is typical of cool usage.

It's worth noting that keen in the sense of "Beautiful; attractive; swell" was especially popular with teenagers and younger folk, at least in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, Max Shulman resorts to the term frequently in his novel Dobie Gillis (1951). Wentworth & Flexner gives several examples from that novel:

"I think she's a keen kid. ... Tell me some more of this keen stuff. ... That sounds so keen."

In the mid-1960s, targeting a youthful audience, Nestlé marketed a powdered drink mix that fell somewhere between Kool-Aid and Tang, which it called Keen.

In Texas (where I grew up) my father sometimes used the expression "ginger peachy-keen," usually with sarcastic overtones. According to Wentworth & Flexner, ginger has the slang meaning "Vigor; vitality; spirit; enthusiasm"—which in company with "peachy-keen" reinforces the note of upbeat naïveté that the speaker means to underscore and (perhaps) mock.


Update (February 26, 2021)

Following up on Hugo's notes about the original source of the expression possibly being a Los Angeles–area radio disc jockey, I note that an Elephind newspaper database search turns up five additional instances of "peachy keen" from 1948 and early 1949, all from California (four from the Stanford University student newspaper and one from the Santa Rosa Junior College student newspaper). I quote them here to give a clearer idea of how the term was used early in its period of popularization.

From Art Levinson, "Bull Session," in the Stanford [California] Daily (June 30, 1948):

Dear Ma:

I'm not writing you because I'm short on money. I just want to tell you all about Stanford in the summer, and also to thank you for that swell Christmas present. Sorry I haven't written sooner.

There was a peachy keen all-campus dance Saturday night. All the boys and a few girls were there. I danced with one cute trick. First name was Aphrodite. Someone cut in before she had a chance to get to her last name.

From "Here's Something Really 'Oh So Peachy Keen'," in the [Santa Rosa, California] Oak Leaf (September 24, 1948):

A few months ago Fortnight, California’s answer to Time magazine, featured an article on one James Hawthorne a so called disc-jockey who until just recently held forth in Pasadena and points south and broadcasted his nightly drivel over station KXLA from that California city.

Jim Hawthorne is not the world’s best radio record player, but that seems to make little if any difference to Hawthorne or the listening audience. Hawthorne has recently signed with ABC, American Broadcasting Company, and may be picked up on station KECA located in Los Angeles any night from 10:30 until 11 p.m.

This young man with an idea has skillfully originated an off the beaten path sort of program consisting of favorite records, new and oftimes ancient, which he delights in playing backward, slowed down or otherwise distorted. Hawthorne is not entirely to blame for many of these happenings, however, since his engineer Egbert is in charge of spinning the various platters, and Egbert has little discretion.

Another of Hawthorne’s helpers is a character known only as Skippy who is described as a little old man of 93 who has a paper route. Skippy is the only real companion Jim Howthorne has on his nightly half hour of chaos. > Other voices repeatedly interrupt Hawthorne but for the most part ther are strictly sections of recordings which are chosen :rf random by Egbert. These voices may interrupt the proceedings anytime from the time Hawthorne begins th'e night's festivities with his usual greeting, “This is Hawthorne, Egbert plays records and transcriptions,” until that same worthy ends his half hour with a conclusion issued in his grating vocal tones.

The popularity attained by Hawthorne is and has been for many months attributed to some of the zaniest projects this side of the Snake Pit. To list a few of his better known works, we have a three way canal to New York City from Pasadena. The two outside lanes being used for boats and bicycles and the middle lane for ducks and swimmers. Also planned is an ox-cart trip to the sun with various stops along the route at the major planets, and moving the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico with the use of ten trained ants. These projects have attracted scores of letters from listeners who wittingly or otherwise fall prey to Hawthorne’s serious straight-faced descriptions of coming works. The reading of these letters invariably takes a good fifteen minutes of the program time, but are constantly interrupted by the voices which Egbert throws in, in a carefree manner.

For those who like an extemporeneous and obviously unrehearsed program with a master of ad lib presiding, the Hawthorne Thing is it.

From an advertisement for Longbarn in the Stanford [California] Daily (October 19, 1948):

Now in Stanford's sunny clime, / Where I uster waste my time, / A'servin' of his majesty, the dean; / There was just one worthwhile pleasure— / One sole memory I treasure— / LONGBARN: yea, 'twas double peachy keen. —GEORGE ROE

From "Chappie Revises Freshman Bible," in the Stanford [California] Daily (October 27, 1948):

Listen, all you peachy - keen Stanford students!

The Chaparral humor magazine is coming out today and will be sold all over Quad by luscious young things giving away kisses with each copy.

And from a letter to the editor in the Stanford [California] Daily (January 25, 1949):

Excom deserves a whole bucket full of plaudits for their wise decision to grace the palm of Benjamin Goodman, et al, for making with the bebop come the 26th of February. It is sure peachy-keen that the characters who wish to attend the brawl for four hours that night will be the recipients of financial help from over 8,000 of their fellow students, so that the tickets won't even cost the price of four drinks at Dinah's.

It seems clear that "peachy keen" had a strong element of irony, faux naive enthusiasm, and sarcasm from its earliest usage in California—presumably because that is how Jim Hawthorne of KXLA radio used it on his show.

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  • I would have said that peachy reminds me more of juicy than immature as in "I have some juicy gossip/news for you." The juice of a ripe peach dribbles and it can be difficult to eat without staining oneself. Hence to be keen on something means I can barely contain my enthusiasm. – Mari-Lou A Nov 11 '13 at 21:29
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OED has

peachy adj.
2. colloq. (orig. U.S.). Excellent, marvellous, great; (of a woman) attractive, desirable.
1900 Dial. Notes 2 48 Peachy, 1. Good, excellent; hence 2. Attractive.

keen adj.
4d. Jolly good, very nice, splendid. colloq. (orig. U.S.).
1914 ‘High Jinks, Jr.’ Choice Slang 14 Keen, excellent... ‘A keen day.’ ‘A keen time.

Both are first cited within fifteen years of each other. Peachy keen simply emphasises the excellence, although that came rather later.

peachy-keen adj.
N. Amer. slang excellent, wonderful.
1951 Independent Jrnl. (San Rafael, Calif.) 27 Oct. 5/8 The recently-installed time clock was well-received... Now all that is needed is a new lighting system and everything will be peachy keen.

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  • Thanks, didn't even think about looking up "keen"... never heard it used in that context. – eykanal Nov 1 '13 at 16:25
  • When I was in high school in the 60s I heard "keen" used regularly. "Peachy" was much rarer, though not exactly uncommon. It's unremarkable that the two terms were joined in youth subculture. – Hot Licks Feb 27 at 1:46
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Peachy-keen is a very informal and playful way of saying excellent or wonderful. If somebody helps me, and I want to thank them and make them feel good, I might say; “Thanks. You are a real peach!” It means to be like a fruit, which is to say, sweet, delicious, highly valued and highly desired and even edible (https://www.quora.com/What-does-you-are-a-peach-mean).

According to https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=peachy+etymology, The first records of the word peachy come from around 1600. The first records of its use as a slang term come from around 1900. The word peach has been used as a slang term referring to an especially likeable or attractive person since at least the 1700s.

(https://prezi.com/o3akklxto9oe/etymology-of-keen/)adds Keen; adjective. Some idiosyncracies also exist, such as the primarily American usage of keen to say things are well or “peachy-keen” or some variation thereof. This trend was first documented in 1914 in the U.S. and has now since fallen mostly out of use as a phrase more commonly used by those who grew up in and experienced the ‘innocent age’ of the 1950’s.

All of these, however, express some degree of existence beyond the ordinary, an excited or elevated state. Though the definition has changed over its existence, the sense of something extraordinary being described-bravery, skill, valor, intensity, or goodness- has not.

Old English

1.The original meaning, according to the OED, is "somewhat obscure" but many texts would suggest that the original meaning is something akin to 'bold' or 'brave' (especially in battle) in Old English.

2.There is an Old Norse word "kœnn" that meant 'expert, clever, or skillful" which is a closer meaning to today.

3.It is thought that the Old Norse definition is the original, with the connection to the Germanic family being "skilled in war," "expert in battle," etc.

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My guess is it's a facetious/childish malapropism for squeaky clean

"He's pie-eyed about you. He thinks you're peachy-keen, squeaky-clean."
Richard Bausch, Take Me Back (1981)

If you Google "peachy keen" "squeaky clean" you'll find the two expressions often occur together.

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