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I read "his father ticked him off in his birthday."

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  • I've always understood "tick", in this sense, to mean "irritate". And I assumed it related to the insect. "I'm ticked off" would be likely to be said by someone who was moderately angry, back in the 70s.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 14:10
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    @HotLicks According to dictionaries, ticked off meaning annoyed is US English. The OP is referring to the British sense - told off, reprimanded. Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 15:45
  • @KateBunting - How do you know?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 15:48
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    @HotLicks I said nothing of the kind. I understand the OP to mean "How does tick off come to mean reprimand?" Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 16:13
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    @HotLicks Without context, it could imply either, and the OP evidently understands it in the British sense. Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 8:28

1 Answer 1

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Apparently from UK military slag from the early 1900s.

The 'chastised' meaning is of UK military origin and dates from the early 20th century and is now rather outmoded. It is usually applied to a child or subordinate. the earliest known citation of it in print is in a 1915 letter which was later published in Wilfred Owen's Collected Letters:

  • "He has been 'ticked-off' four or five times for it; but is not yet shot at dawn."

(The Phrase Finder)

Probably from the earlier sense of “making a mark beside an item on a list”

perhaps via World War I military bureaucratic sense of being marked off from a list as "dismissed" or "ineligible."

(Etymonline)

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  • When all the boxes are tick, it is to have the right qualities to be a good choice or solution. Source: Cambridge Dictionary. English is interesting Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 12:02
  • I've always taken it as a rather more mild expression of "told off". "Ticked off" never sounds quite as bad to me as "told off".
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 17:37

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