What Does Tickled to Death Mean?

Tickled to Death Meaning

Definition: Extremely pleased or amused.

A variant of this phrase is tickled pink.

Origin of Tickled to Death

Nowadays, when most people think of tickle, they think of wiggling one’s fingers against another person’s stomach, or another part of a person’s skin. This usually causes the person to laugh uncontrollably. This definition has existed since the 1300s.

A closely related meaning is to excite agreeably. This also goes all the way back to the 1300s and is closely related to the word titillate. However, the figurative use of tickle to mean excite or amuse didn’t begin until the 1600s.

This is the meaning that it has in the idiom tickled to death, although the idiom itself didn’t appear until the first half of the 1800s. This meaning can also be seen in the expression tickled pink, which is a newer formulation.

An early use of the expression tickled to death can be found in James Kirke Paulding’s The Bucktails (1815, 4.2):

  • Stab me, but do not tickle me to death in sport.

Examples of Tickled to Death

tickled me to deathIn the example below, two siblings are at a high-school reunion.

Jordan: You know, I’m actually glad that I came to this reunion. I know that I wanted to leave early, but now I’m happy that I stayed.

James: Why is that?

Jordan: I realized that my life isn’t so bad. I know this makes me seem like a horrible person, but I’m tickled to death to see that I am pretty successful by comparison to a lot of my former classmates.

tickled pink meaningIn the second dialogue, two coworkers are discussing the surprise birthday party that one of them had.

Job: I’m so glad I got to go to your birthday party over the weekend!

Melissa: I’m glad my friend who planned it invited you. I was so shocked! I’ve never had a surprise party before, so I really wasn’t expecting it.

Job: You definitely looked completely unaware before we jumped out and yelled, “Surprise!”

Melissa: I had no idea what was about to happen.

Job: Some people don’t like surprises. What about you? Did you have fun?

Melissa: Oh yes! I was tickled to death!

More Examples

This excerpt is about family members that recovered their ancestors’ Bible and learned about their relatives from previous generations.

  • “We’re tickled to death with it,” said Greg. “It was a little more emotional than I even expected, even though it was a person I never met.” –New York Post

The second quote is from a 90-year-old man who still loves to play tennis.

  • “I’m tickled to death to play with the women because they’re always thinking, studying the game and taking lessons,” he said. “I never know what to expect from them from them on the court.” –Chicago Tribune

Summary

The expression tickled to death means very happy.

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