Word of the day: copacetic

This email recently arrived in the Engine Room inbox:

We came across a word the other day, which neither of us two have heard before.

It’s “copacetic” and means “something is in excellent order”. Apparently, it’s an obscure American word! Have you come across it before?

It was used to describe the mood of my cow, Malcolm, who I’ve adopted online and after I fed him some broccoli....

I have to admit it was a new one on me too. However Wikipedia says copacetic is used "almost exclusively in North America", so maybe it is not so surprising I haven't come across it before. I wonder where Malcolm the cow lives?

Copacetic, which rhymes with 'oh, pathetic' and has a number of variant spellings, is an interesting word because its origin is highly debated. Theories variously suggest it comes from Creole French, Hebrew, or African American slang. It may even be a corruption of 'the cop is on the settee' (my personal favourite).

There's too much to write about copacetic here, but if you want to find out more then good starting places would be the Wikipedia entry on copacetic, or Michael Quinion's World Wide Words.

I would also be interested to hear from other people, American or not, about their familiarity with this word. Ta.

How now, copacetic cow?

8 comments:

Gloom Raider said...

My father, a Virginia native, has on occasion used this word in conversation. However, there's a sort of quotation-mark-indicating pause he uses before it that suggests he regards it as a word from his youth (1950s and 1960s). It was years before I ever saw it in print.

JD said...

Christopher Walken's character in the remake of The Stepford Wives uses the word 'copacetic' - and that film has a contemporary setting with retro, almost 1950s elements.

Anonymous said...

Copacetic does not seem to have a very vigorous fan base. I have heard the term used in only scattered conversations over the last 35 years. I don't see any pattern in the age/sex/race/class of the several people I can think of who have used the term. The gravity of the issue isn't likely to send me over to the University to look it up in the OED. Perhaps the word got a boost when some now forgotten popular sitcom or talk show personality used it a lot. It is not on my radar screen of annoying pop phrases.

Anonymous said...

The only use of it I've come across is in a rap by nerd rapper ytCracker:

I hated gym, 'cos I never was athletic.
I played a coupl'a sports just to keep it copacetic.

NK said...

It's used in two different episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. I had never heard it before, and it seemed curious, like a word you find come across studying for the SAT and thereafter almost never hear used in normal conversation.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, my father once told me that "Copacetic" is almost exclusively used on the East Coast of the US. It originated in the Northeast (Boston / New York) from the Yiddish / Italian neighborhoods. "Copa" came from "Kosher" and I forget the other half...

Yes, too many Big Macs can result in Mad Cow...I'm living proof it seems.

Anonymous said...

I am originally from the UK and have lived in the US for 30 years where I have only heard the word "copacetic" used on two occasions , each by African-Americans. I never heard it at all growing up in the UK.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually learning about this in my US history class (I'm from southern California)and its a slang word from the 1920s, also known as the roaring twenties. Used a lot by flappers and the like to describe things that were first-rate or excellent :) I think its a fun word!