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shameless pleading





That’s the ticket!

Pleased as punch.

Dear Word Detective: What is the intended meaning of the expression “That’s the ticket!” and where does it come from? — Gerd J. Mangels.

You realize, of course, that you’ve actually asked two questions, and that if I answer both some small child in New Zealand will go to bed still wondering where “lollygag” came from. In fact, it has come to my attention that while US citizens make up only three percent of the world’s population, they ask more than sixty percent of the questions I receive. Inasmuch as I am a scarce resource (and fading by the day), I think we need a cap and trade system around here. I’ll have the caps made, y’all can trade them ’til you get one that fits, and I’ll be out back counting chipmunks.


Cash value three groats.

OK, I’m back. I can’t tell the darn things apart anyway. The first question you’ve asked is the easy one. “That’s the ticket!” is a slang expression, dating back at least to the early 19th century, meaning “That’s just what is needed” or “That’s perfect.” The phrase hasn’t changed its form since it first appeared (“They ought to be hanged, sir, (that’s the ticket, and he’d whop the leader),” 1838), but it was freshly popularized by the character Tommy Flanagan, Pathological Liar, created by comedian Jon Lovitz on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. The core of “that’s the ticket” is the use of “ticket” to mean “just the right thing” or “the proper way or course of action,” also dating back to the early 1800s, and today often found in the form “just the ticket” (“… such a referendum might be just the ticket to settle this issue, if only for a while,” Naples (FL) Daily News, 6/13/09). As you might imagine, “that’s the ticket” and “just the ticket” are favorite puns of political writers, movie and theater reviewers, and reporters stuck with covering parking disputes.

So, on to question number two: exactly how did “ticket” come to mean “the right thing, the perfect choice, etc.”? One theory suggests that “that’s the ticket” is drawn from the French phrase “c’est l’etiquette,” meaning “that’s the proper thing or course of action,” but that is considered unlikely. Interestingly, “etiquette” itself is derived from the Old French “estiquette,” meaning “ticket or label,” which originally referred to small cards given to visitors to the Royal Court containing instructions for proper behavior.

More likely sources for “ticket” in this “just the right thing” or “just what is needed” sense include political “tickets” (roster of one party’s candidates), tickets for meals at soup kitchens given out by charities (a theory bolstered by the existence of the 18th century phrase “that’s the ticket for soup”), or a winning lottery ticket. It might, however, just reflect the general sense of “ticket,” common since the 17th century, meaning “guarantee of some kind of benefit,” also found in such phrases as “ticket to success” and “write your own ticket.”

11 comments to That’s the ticket!

  • Alan Eastty

    Ref “that’s the ticket” it apparently dates from the early 18th century (April 1717) – see page 34 of “Some Account of the Parish of Saint Clement Danes Past and Present” by John Diprose – 1868

  • Vincent Belli

    I’m sure Lovitz didn’t know all that but I bet he DID see African Queen and Boogie says it to Katherine exactly like Lovitz says it on SNL

  • LL Davis

    I read this somewhere a dozen years ago but remember it being explained as originally being “That’s etiquette” in England but was transformed into “That’s the ticket” by use of the lower classes, especially those with the Cockney accent. I thought that made great logic.

  • Carol Ann

    I recall one of the Three Stooges using that line as well. In fact I can see his face, but can’t remember which one. Jon Lovitz probably first heard the phrase in that context.

  • Larry

    I recently listened to a radio interview where Lovitz claims he first heard that phrase from the movie “The Thin Man” 1934 from the character called Nunheim.

  • Marianne Malthouse

    I believe it comes from the Workhouse where itinerant families were placed in the 18th & 19th centuries. They would be given a ticket so they could get a bowl of soup. Hence “That’s the ticket for soup”. As an aside another expression from the Workhouse comes from the old rope they were made to unpick and re-wind hence “money for old rope”.

  • Brilaffie

    That’s the ticket now your cooking with gas. This is what my father always said

  • Colleen Barbetti

    When I, or my friends, say that’s the ticket, it’s used jokingly to mean that’s the lie I will use instead of the truth. Like when some takes a wrong but good guess at something you don’t want to reveal the truth about. I think we picked it up from Bugs Bunny way back when.

  • Michael Decker

    Isn’t it from pawn shop customers redeeming their items by handing over the pawn ticket? Can be seen used in old movies such as Seven Days to Noon (1950).

  • Darrell Freels

    My father said “That’s The Ticket” so often, I decided to shorten it to ”TTT”, around 1968.

  • Rowena

    Thank you for great explanation of “just the ticket” and its origin.

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