Creativity Magazine

Tacky -- What's in a Word?

By Vickilane

 Tacky -- What's in a Word?
When corresponding recently with a friend regarding amaryllis, I mentioned that, growing up in Florida where a neighbor had a whole straggling hedge-like row of the big flowers, I had always thought of them as somewhat tacky and had only come to appreciate them after moving to a place where they couldn't thrive outside and weren't so . . . well, common. On the contrary, now I see amaryllis as the spectacular blooms they are.

And that got me thinking about the word 'tacky.'  In my youth, it was used frequently, mainly by my mother and those of her generation but later --  say beginning in high school, by me and my peers. Often with a very exaggerated drawl -- "Oh, lord,  that's taaacky!"

Dictionaries say it means cheap or vulgar, and that's pretty close to the way I guess we used it.  But not quite.  Tacky could be as innocuous as, for example, wearing too much makeup or a rhinestone bracelet to school (it would be fine at a semi-formal  or formal dance. Unless the makeup was of the Amy Winehouse school -- that would have been tacky.) Or  breaking any of the unspoken fashion rules -- which differed every year and within every group of friends.

Pierced ears were tacky. Also ankle bracelets. Fluffy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. Tattoos were pretty much unheard of except for service men, criminals, and circus people. And they were tacky.

There was also tacky behavior -- and this generally meant rudeness or breaking the 'code' of the group. Flirting with a friend's boyfriend was tacky; going on a date with him was trashy.

Did or do did any of you use the word 'tacky' in this sense? And if so, for what? Is this mainly a Southern American usage.

I started trying to think of things that I would call tacky today -- I surprised myself by even using the word in my email to the friend -- and realized the whole modern concept of doing things ironically muddies the waters.  As does sentiment.

Tacky -- What's in a Word?

For example: If I made an arrangement using the cut off pineapple top above, would I be doing it ironically or would it be just plain tacky? 
Tacky -- What's in a Word?

I always incorporate some skulls into my Fall décor -- tacky or ironic? Or spiritual? (Pretty sure my mother would call it tacky.)
Tacky -- What's in a Word?

A local fellow puts out quirky displays  -- tacky? Or folk art?

And some of my most treasured Christmas ornaments would probably be considered tacky if not for the memories. "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." William Morris said. And it's a pretty good statement, especially since there's a lot of wiggle room in that word 'believe.' But it leaves out those things that are neither useful nor beautiful but are, nonetheless, heart warming or personally meaningful or just plain fun to look at. But maybe those last three categories fit into 'useful.' Whatever, I can see Marie Kondo making little headway with me.

Tacky -- What's in a Word?

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog