Just the Ticket.

I used the phrase “just the ticket” today and suddenly thought “What is ‘the ticket’?” Of course I turned to the OED, which doesn’t have the phrase in that form but does have (in the ticket entry, from 1912):

9. slang.
a. The correct thing; what is wanted, expected, or fashionable; esp. in that’s the ticket.
Perhaps from 8; or, as some have suggested, from the winning ticket in a lottery.

1838 T. C. Haliburton Clockmaker 2nd Ser. xxi. 323 They ought to be hanged, sir, (that’s the ticket, and he’d whop the leader).
1843 E. FitzGerald Lett. (1889) I. 117 I fancy that moderately high hills (like these) are the ticket.
1847 E. FitzGerald Lett. (1889) I. 179 This [idealizing of portraits] is all wrong. Truth is the ticket.
1853 Thackeray Newcomes (1854) I. vii. 66 Somehow she’s not—she’s not the ticket.
1866 Routledge’s Every Boy’s Ann. 411 That’s the ticket! That’s the winning game.

Sense 8, mentioned in the small print, is:

In politics (orig. U.S.): the list of candidates for election nominated or put forward by a party or faction. Also, the subject or theme of an election campaign; the principles of a political party as presented for an election.
1711 I. Norris in Penn-Logan Corr. (1872) II. 438 Chester [Pennsylvania] carried their ticket entire.

I guess that’s as plausible a source for the idiom as any; I’m surprised it goes back as far as 1711 (and it can doubtless be antedated).


  1. Green’s Dictionary of Slang pushes it back a few years, to 1835. Wilson’s Tales of the Borders 21 Feb. 125/1: “‘Capital!’ cried two or three of the conclave; ‘that’s just the ticket, Ned!’ ‘Nonsense!’ interrupted Harry, ‘it’s nae such thing’.” He also notes the equivalent just the job.

  2. …and also “My Wife She Wasn’t The Ticket”, a song title from the 1876 Jolly Old Boys Comic Song Book.

  3. Thanks, I should have thought of Green! I blame the miserable heat.

  4. John Cowan says

    I have heard and even propagated the story that that’s the ticket is a corruption of a jocular mispronunciation of that’s etiquette ‘that’s the correct thing’, stressing the noun on the second syllable. Or sylláble, as my Latin teacher used to say when one of his discipuli made such a blunder due to a false quantity (but at least we did not have to expiate them in blood). Ahem. The OED’s 1838 quotation for that’s the ticket is “They ought to be hanged, sir, (that’s the ticket, and he’d whop the leader)”, where etiquette could be substituted quite satisfactorily.

    Of course, sticker, ticket, etiquette are an etymological triplet.

  5. Many uses of “the ticket” in early US newspapers refer to election lists (OED’s no. 8). From a 1839 paper: “…men of unquestionable worth. That is just the ticket precisely….it is just the ticket that can be elected.”
    A more figurative use from 1833 papers:
    “Judge–Answer me, Sir. Did you marry these three women? (Cries of ‘that’s the ticket.’ ‘Och, Pat, you’ve your foot in a box with a nail in’t.)”

  6. That makes the transfer of sense plausible and almost inevitable.

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