The delightful-sounding tickle your fancy is, I think, one of those rare idioms where the word order can be reversed and its meaning changes; the request: fancy a tickle? said with a raised eyebrow and a coy smile can suggest light sexual foreplay, the addressee could be tickled pink at the idea and accept the offer. Things get more serious between two people who have taken a fancy to each other, as more often than not, they are “up for a bit of slap and tickle”; a euphemistic phrase meaning sexual intercourse.

But not all relationships work out in the end, the bright initial spark that lit a fire fizzles out, and when a couple split they become footloose and fancy-free.

It is my understanding that many of the expressions emphasized above are peculiar to British English, and I was wondering if north American speakers say these expressions to one another?

  • People of a certain generation still say “Whatever tickles your fancy”, but I fear it is becoming dated. Nowadays, what do north Americans say? Are there modern-day equivalents of:

    1. tickle your fancy
    2. tickled pink
    3. take a fancy to
    4. footloose and fancy-free

    I am especially interested in hearing American English/slang idioms or expressions. The rude ones, I know. If you would like to include snippets of their etymology, I'd be very tickled.

  • Would "you turn me on" cross the 'innocence' line? books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 Sep 2 '15 at 6:37
  • @Josh61 no that's fine, not too sure how "modern" it is though. But it's definitely less dated. – Mari-Lou A Sep 2 '15 at 6:39
  • Just as a side note, that's close to the Italian 'solleticare la fantasia'. Same sexual nuance. – user66974 Sep 2 '15 at 7:13
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    "Tickle your fancy" used to be quite common in the US, but I'd have to say I've not heard it much in recent years (possibly because it's acquired an undeserved hint of immorality). (I'm quite sure that Tom Smothers played word games with the phrase on their old TV show.) – Hot Licks Sep 2 '15 at 12:17

I agree with OP that whatever tickles your fancy is getting a bit "dated". The new kid on the block (AmE and BrE) is...

whatever floats your boat - see whatever turns you on

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    I haven't heard "floats your boat" in years. But I'm having trouble recalling recent usage of any such idiom. – Hot Licks Sep 2 '15 at 18:26
  • @Hot Licks: I've heard it a lot in the past couple of decades, so being BrE the first thing I did when I queried NGrams was compare relative prevalence in the US/UK corpuses. If anything the figures suggest it's actually more common in AmE. There's no doubt in my mind that even if it did exist a long time ago, it's coming very much to the fore today. – FumbleFingers Sep 2 '15 at 20:00
  • Yeah, the work environment I've been in for the past 5 years has been less apt to encourage the sort of free-flowing discussion where the term might be used, I suppose. So I'm maybe not getting a good reading on it. – Hot Licks Sep 2 '15 at 20:17
  • +1 as I think any snowclone of whatever Xs your Y would be understood, but whatever floats your boat may be the most mainstream. If I tell a friend or co-worker hey, whatever creams your coffee or hey, whatever tickles your Elmo I'd probably be understood, but I would never use such zany imagery in writing or more formal communication. – choster Sep 2 '15 at 20:24
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    @Mari-Lou: Fancy a fumble? ;) – FumbleFingers Sep 3 '15 at 0:32

North Americans are not used to hearing these terms and we definitely do not use them often. The most common one, if I had to choose, is taken a fancy to (which is never used in a casual setting).

Here are some equivalencies I've run into:

  • "Whatever tickles your fancy" = "Whatever suits you"
  • "They've taken a fancy to each other" = "They're taking it to the next level" (kind of a silly one)
  • "They're footloose and fancy-free" = "They're separated"

Of course since North America is such a big place, there are tons of different sayings that can be used here. More often than not, we'll use a saying that is more on the casual side — nothing too crazy or fancy.

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    Saying “whatever tickles your fancy” is perfectly fine cisatlantically. And your second one is merely annoying business jargon that should be given the dripping contempt it deserves. – tchrist Sep 3 '15 at 2:17

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