Monday, October 10, 2011

Talking Tacky

One of the customers of the blog, deploring last week’s posting about “piss-poor,” has upbraided me for being tacky.  Be that as it may, tacky is a word that demands—nay, screeches for—an explanation.

Tacky, now meaning “trashy” or “inappropriate,” has a circuitous etymological path.

The Online Etymological Dictionary traces the word to 1800, spelling it tackey and meaning a “small or inferior horse.” By 1852 it was used to mean “in poor taste.” 

The Oxford English Dictionary finds it was spelled tackie in 1860 and suggested that the meaning of a “broken-down or worthless horse” was unkindly extended to the poor white class of the Southern States, sometimes known, even more unkindly, as “white trash.” Thereafter, "tacky" became a popular insult among the well-to-do, and has been ever since a synonym for "shabby," "cheap," "tawdry,” “gaudy,” “dowdy,” or “lacking good breeding.”

The standard references decline to tackle tacky’s etymology, the OED calling its “origin obscure” and the Onliine Etymological Dictionary “uncertain.”  Come on, gang, you can do better than that.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, in whom are conflated all the various meanings of tacky (including “stickiness”), nonetheless maintains he was born with a silver spoon in his eye.  That may account for the deplorable lack of vision represented by this collection of undiluted detritus:

            Jackie is tacky,
            And Blackie is wacky,
            And Mackie, by cracky,
            Is tawdry.
            Maudie is gaudy,
            And Toddy is bawdy,
            And nobody’s broader
            Than Audrey.
            Billy is silly,
            And Millie is chilly,
            And Willie (that nut)
            Is just dowdy.
            Bobby is snobby
            And Robbie is knobby,
            And Jabba the Hut
            Hollers “Howdy!”

            Jerry is merry
            And Perry is scary,
            And Terry has nary
            A care.
            Janie is zany
            And Lainie is brainy,
            And Cheney’s got grainy
            Gray hair.

1 comment:

  1. Is that "Willie" who is "dowdy" a gentle poke at a certain former Rice English Dept. chairman?