Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Episode 237: Tickled Pink


This week Shauna and Dan explore the phrase "Tickled Pink". Bonus: Tickled to Death, Pinkalicious, and Secretly loving hated books

Copyright 2024 All Rights Reserved

Click to read more


 Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 237: Tickled Pink
Record Date: May 26, 2024
Air Date: May 29, 2024


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase.

I’m Dan Pugh

And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook
When I was out shopping with my family, my sister saw that a famous author she loved was signing copies of his book. She ended up getting to shake his hand and take a photo with him. When my mom relayed the story to the family later, she said, “Your sister was tickled pink that she got to meet him!


The phrase "tickled pink” means that a person is very pleased or happy. It is often used when something has happened that brings the person joy.

In this phrase, being tickled isn’t referring to a tingling sensation or the feeling one has after a light or gentle touch. In fact, it has been found in print earlier than tickled in reference to the odd physical experience.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, from around the early 1300s, “tickle” is,

Said of a thing, or impersonally with it: To excite agreeably (a person, his or her heart, ears, palate, etc.); to give pleasure or amusement to; to please, gratify. to tickle to death… Also in colloquial phrase to tickle pink, to delight; to overcome with pleasure or amusement.
End quote


One early example of this form of tickle is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s work, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, written around 1386.

It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote.
End quote

Tickle comes from the same word we get titillate. It is a borrowing from the Latin word titillare. The two words were fairly interchangeable in the 1600s and 1700s with tickle being used in the definition for titillate in some dictionaries. Over time, the words found separate niches in English and tickle has primarily been the more innocent of the two.

Another related term is “to death” which was mentioned in the definition found in Oxford English Dictionary. Here is their definition for death in this context.

Old English

Intensifying verbs or adjectives of feeling: to the last extremity, to the utmost, to the point of physical or nervous exhaustion, beyond endurance, (in weakened sense) extremely, to a high degree, as to frighten (also hate, etc.) to death
End quote

This usage of “to death” seems to predate the term “tickled”. It was found in print in Old English works and continues to be in common use today.


A great early example of this usage is found in The Harley lyrics, edited by George Leslie Brook, published around 1350.

My pain paineth me to death.
(My peyne pyne├ż me to dede.)
End quote

I love this example because it is still pretty relatable today.

There are two phrases we should consider. The other popular version of this phrase is “tickled pink”. So where does pink come into things.

Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition,

The most excellent example of something; the embodiment or model of a particular quality.
End quote


One example is found in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet published in 1597.

Why I am the very pinke of curtesie. Rom: Pinke for flower.
End quote

So both of these variations of the phrase are implying the extreme of something. “Tickled to death” has been the more popular phrase over the years with a large peak in the early 1900s. “Tickled pink” only started being used in the early 1900s and saw a decent spike in usage in the 2000s.

As we go through some of these historical references, we will be following the use of tickled as the primary focus.


The Religion of the Hypocritical Presbyterians in Meeter. by John Phillips from 1661 includes poetry using the terms.

But now the Parson could no longer stay,
Tis time to kisse, he cryes, and so away.
At which the sisters, once th' alarum tak❜n,
Made such a din as would have ferv'd to wak'n
A snoring brother, when he sleeps at Church;
With bagg and baggage then they gan to march;
And ticled with the thoughts of their delight,
End quote


The next item comes from the work titled The Ancient History Of The Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians,
Macedonians and Grecians By Charles Rollin.

his table was covered with nothing but the most common food;
because eating in Egypt was designed, not to tickle the palate,
but to satisfy the cravings of nature.
End quote


Commentary on the expression “to death” is covered in the work Lectures and Addresses by William Cumback, published in 1892.

On every hand we meet with people who are "tired to death," "froze to death," "tickled to death," and almost everything "to death." It is a daily occurrence among older people, as well as school-girls, to say that "they thought they would die" from some small circumstance producing the slightest mirth or the least possible fright.

Something that is not exactly agreeable, nowadays, is declared to be " 'perfectly awful," or "monstrous," or "horrid." Anything that pleases, however small the pleasure, is declared to be "so sweet," ""perfectly splendid," "grand," and "gorgeous." The most expensive adjectives are piled on without regard to their value.
End quote


The topic of being tickled is discussed in Charles Darwin's Works: The expression of the emotions in man and animals by Charles Darwin and Sir Francis Darwin published in 1896.

The imagination is sometimes said to be tickled by a ludicrous idea; and this so-called tickling of the mind is curiously analogous with that of the body. Every one knows how immoderately children laugh, and how their whole bodies are convulsed when they are tickled.
End quote

He continues on the topic a bit, comparing how people and animals respond to being tickled. We’ll read a little more of this in the behind the scenes available on Patreon every Friday at


In The Sun, July 15, 1900 out of New York, NY, we find the phrase “tickled pink” used.

They were just tickled pink.
End quote

This is the earliest attestation using pink that I was able to find in print.


Hicks at College: A Comedy in Three Acts By Sara Preston, Amy Oliver,  and Ralph E. Dyar was published in 1909. Here is an excerpt,

Is Peters fixed?

JORDAN. Sure. Tom made up some rhymes about his grub and the old man's tickled pink.
End quote


Starting in the 1930s and 1940s, the phrase made it into ads and comics. It was in the Detroit evening times., November 11, 1945, out of Detroit, Michigan.

I’m tickled pink about the way the kids’ clothes come clean with MORE SUDS!
Super Suds, Super Suds, Floods o’ Suds for dishes and duds!
End quote

I loved the little diddy in that one. I feel like there was probably a song with that one at some point.


In the Evening star, November 03, 1959, out of Washington, D.C., there is a full-page ad for a radio station,

WINX LISTENERS don’t want us to give up in the middle of the afternoon -- and there are enough of them to keep us going right around the clock. It’s the old story of supply and demand. More listeners demand our balanced blend of music, news and sports. And we’re tickled pink to supply it - 24 hours a day - every day of the year.
End quote
Okay, we have several modern uses to cover and we’ll get to those, right after we say thank you to our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You
This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon. And the cool thing about Patreon is it is 100% free to join the Bunny Trails community!

We have new things every weekday on the feeds. On Monday’s we have a conversation about what movies, shows, books, podcasts and whatever else everyone is enjoying, Tuesday see early access to the weeks podcast, Wednesdays have all the links, books, songs, and other content mentioned in the weeks episode, Thursday has patron’s only polls, and Friday’s are our lightly-edited behind the scenes video featuring all the cut content, goofs, and bonus facts you could imagine.

We’ve got some other pretty cool stuff, too, like Original Digital Artwork once a month, made by ME, and direct access to talk with us. No algorithm’s getting in the way of what we see or don’t see. Plus, you can get awesome name recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And our top spot is currently occupied by the amazing Mary Halsig Lopez.

You can join the Bunny Trails community for free at bunny trails pod on Patreon.


Modern Uses


Tickled Pink Airbrush is a company that was founded in 2008. According to their website,

Tickled Pink Airbrush is a family owned company located in Oregon dedicated to providing high-quality facial care products.
End quote

Their main products include cosmetic airbrush makeup systems and skincare products.


The band Tickle Me Pink was established in 2005. They are a punk rock group from Colorado. Some of their popular songs include Typical and Madeline. The songs involve themes about very real-world concerns like mortality.  


Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink by Victoria Kann is a 2010 children’s book. One of my kids was 100% obsessed with Pinkalicious so it was a splash of nostalgia when this title popped up. Here is a synopsis,

It's nonstop laughs when Pinkalicious finds a knock-knock joke book in the school library. But when one of the mean girls challenges her to a laugh-off, Pinkalicious has to pull out all the stops to create the funniest, most pinktastic joke ever.
End quote


Next up we have a 2016 article from Susan Carlson Quilts.

On her blog, Susan talks about some of the quilts she has created. In the  post, Quilt Stories: Tickled Pink, she discusses the pink rhino quilt she created. It’s a truly impressive piece with layered fabrics to give dimension and depth to the quilt. She discusses how her work was influenced by the work of engraver Albrecht Durer from the 1500s. This pink rhino quilt is absolutely a work of art. It’s very impressive.


Established in 2021,

Tickled Pink Breast Cancer Support Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides complimentary healthy cuisine to single adult breast cancer survivors undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
End quote


I'm Tickled Pink! (Understanding Idioms) is a 2023 book by Cynthia Amoroso.

I'm on the ball and tickled pink! Do you know what that sentence means? Let's learn the ropes and discover the meaning and origin of these unusual sayings and many more in this engaging, informative book. Colorful, humorous illustrations and clear examples help readers better understand idioms and how to use them. Additional features include a table of contents, a glossary, critical-thinking questions, sources for further research, an introduction to the author and illustrator, and an index.
End quote


Seven Mountains Wine Cellars offers a variety of wine online titled Seven Mountains - Tickled Pink. They describe it as,

Niagara, Concord, Ferdonia. Vineyard: Lake Erie, PA. Residual Sugar: 8.5%. ABV: N/A. Fermentation: Stainless steel fermented. Aging: unaged. Notes of grape on the front end that finishes like sweet cotton candy. Simply pair with fruit and mild cheese.
End quote

Wrap up:
This is a fun phrase. Whether you are tickled pink or tickled to death, the intention is to express a positive experience. It’s one of the more absurd idioms in my mind because it just doesn’t connect with its meaning very well. To me, that makes it a little more silly than others. And that leaves me almost, maybe, slightly tickled pink.

That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on Patreon,, or comment on our website,


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we asked our Patrons,

Would you rather secretly love a book everyone else hates, or secretly hate a book everyone else loves?

Our listeners were all in agreement on this one… 100% voted they’d rather secretly love a book everyone else hates.

Hating a book that everyone else loved grew old on me. I really didn't like the Hunger Games books but most folks I knew really liked it. So I always had to listen to them drone on about how much they enjoyed it and they'd talk about specifics that were the exact reasons I would use to say why I disliked it. So I just get to be the odd one out. And if I'm gonna be the odd one, I'd like it to be based on what I love, not what I hate.

JGP said
I don't think I pay enough attention to what's popular or loved or hated or whatever to pick a way to vote on this poll. If I like a book I'm happy, I found something I enjoyed, other's opinions on it doesn't really matter.
End quote

Wise words, JGP. Wise words.

Heather shared
If I dislike a book, I'm not going to be secretive about it, at least if I'm asked. So I guess I'd rather love a book that everyone hates. In general though I try to avoid the hot new books everyone raves about, at least until the hype dies down. I have too much on my TBR to be chasing the trends.
End quote


Mary said
I love loving books. It is one thing to enjoy reading a book and yet another to embrace every plot twist, every word choice, every character. That is an overwhelmingly, beautiful experience. I choose that.
End quote

I’m with you all on this one. I prefer to love books rather than dislike them. But I’m not sure I’ll keep it secret either way. I also generally avoid the popular new book or series. Partly because, there tends to be a lot of hype surrounding new books that doesn’t necessarily hold up. But also because I really dislike it when a series does not get completed. I don’t enjoy it when I don’t get to finish the story.

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. And patrons of all levels, including our free tiers, can take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember,

Words belong to their users.

No comments:

Post a Comment