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?

  • A young director who commited a murder used this phrase in ''Colmbo.” – user137595 Sep 5 '15 at 4:49

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.

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.

  • 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

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.

  • Thanks, didn't even think about looking up "keen"... never heard it used in that context. – eykanal Nov 1 '13 at 16:25

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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