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What does "Ticky Tacky" Mean?

Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen

Ticky tacky refers to the shoddy materials often used in mass constructed tract housing. It is probably a rhyming reduplication of the word tacky, which refers to anything that is considered to be in bad taste. Many sources credit first use of the term to a 1960s American folk song, where it referred to the type of low cost tract housing built for and purchased by soldiers as they returned from war in the previous decades. In addition to referring to these types of homes, ticky tacky can also refer to the building materials used to construct them. Many modern housing developments are referred to as ticky tacky due to an either real or perceived lack of quality and workmanship.

After World War Two, the United States experienced a pressing need for housing as soldiers returned home and started families. To exploit this demand, some developers created vast tract housing projects that consisted of similar or identical homes. Uniformity among these homes allowed the developers to drive down prices on materials, which resulted in more affordable finished products. The first of these subdivisions opened in the late 1940s, and they were popular for some time.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

Early examples of these housing tracts consisted of homes that had identical floor plans and external appearances. Later developments to the process introduced variations, including reversed floor plans and exterior touches such as carports. Some tract housing projects also include a handful of similar homes to break up the uniformity, though the actual changes to the construction materials and designs may be minimal.

In the 1960s, a song was written to satirize these developments, which by that time were ubiquitous across the country. The song referred to these homes as being made of ticky tacky, which is often referred to as the first appearance of the word. Ticky tacky may have been slang or vernacular already, though it gained widespread use throughout the 1960s. It came to refer to the shoddy workmanship and materials that are often associated with identical tract housing. Whether a tract housing project contains high quality homes or not, the uniformity often results in the term being applied.

Modern housing developments are sometimes referred to as ticky tacky, though the slang may not be as popular in some areas as it was in the 1960s. Tract housing continues to have a poor reputation among many people, either due to a perceived lack of quality, individuality, or aesthetics. Issues such as suburban sprawl are often associated with these types of housing developments.

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