David from Traverse City
asked about the origin of the word cockamamie. Today, it means ridiculous and
laughably implausible (what a cockamamie idea!), but it started out in a much different
In the 1860s, a
particular art and hobby form came into prominence. It was called decalcomania,
a combination of the French décalquer, to transfer a tracing, and manie, a craze. It involved the process of
transferring pictures from specially prepared paper to surfaces of glass,
porcelain, and the like.
In the 1920s and 1930s,
American children were accustomed to finding cheap decals as a bonus in packs
of gum. They were cheap temporary tattoos. I remember buying and using them in
the 1940s. They usually represented cartoon characters. You would wet the back
of your hand or your arm, then press and hold the decal until transfer was
Somewhere along the
line, decalcomania was shortened to the more childish cockamamie. What’s not
clear is how a word for a temporary tattoo came to mean ridiculous and foolish.
Perhaps it was the cheap and fragile nature of the ink and paper, or the often
blurred image that resulted from an improperly or hastily applied image.
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