Songs and Stories

Posted by SR on January 13, 2005

In Reply to: Copacetic posted by ESC on January 13, 2005

: : : : : : : : I have heard this phrase used over the years in lofty, whimsical exchanges and I am familiar with the intended meaning; however, I am unable to find an etymology for 'copasetic' or its other spellings. Is this a relatively new word and phrase?

: : : : : : : : SR

: : : : : : : A few sources have the word originating in the early 20th Century, from the jazz and bebop hipster era.

: : : : : : We've got the first word covering. From Merriam-Webster online:

: : : : : : Main Entry: sa·lu·bri·ous
: : : : : : Pronunciation: s&-'lü-brE-&s
: : : : : : Function: adjective
: : : : : : Etymology: Latin salubris; akin to salvus safe, healthy -- more at SAFE
: : : : : : : favorable to or promoting health or well-being

: : : : : "Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang" by Tom Dalzell (Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Md., 1996) says that copacetic is a Flapper term from the 1920s. No origin listed.

: : : :
: : : : Copacetic: fine, excellent, going just right. This definition, from the OED, is also used in World Wide Words, which has a substantial article on the word. The origin is unknown and the spellings various. The word was current during most of the 20th century in the U.S. (1st OED citation 1919), its only home, and is still occasionally heard today. It was once a sort of fad word, as a "jazzy" and "now" expression, probably because of one or two popular movies where it was said. I'm not sure that the above definition is not too confining. I've heard it used in an expression like "That's copacetic" to mean something similar to today's fad slang, "I'm cool with that." SS

: : : COPACETIC -- "satisfactory, 1933, with some later use meaning excellent. This word was popularized by the tap dancer Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, who used it heavily in his vaudeville and stage appearances in the 1920s and 30s. Though the origin of the word is not certain, it could come from the Creole French 'coupersetique' (from Old French 'couper,' to strike), able to be done or coped with." From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

: : One of the most requested songs that we perform in our show is Jerry Jeff Walker's, Mr. Bojangles, and we usually tell his story and the story behind the writing of the song before we perform the piece. Sincere thanks ESC and SS, once again, for more interesting tidbits about Bill Robinson that we can share.

: : SR

: Show?

We attempt to keep folk music and storytelling alive in this age of computerized, manufactured, hip-hop corporate noise, and have been doing so successfully for the past forty years. The language is very important in what I do. That is one reason I REALLY appreciate this site, Gary and the core contributors and also why I like to contribute from my knowledge of music and stories. Thank you again ESC.