The idiom peachy keen was originally used to signify that something, someone, some situation, or event were superlative in the coolest, funniest way.
As a grade-schooler in the late 1950s, I remember being delighted by this idiom, sometimes adding jelly bean at the end as an intensifier (Peachy keen, jelly bean!).
But even then, I also recognized in a way I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, there was a faint sense of sarcasm hovering above the phrase despite its otherwise positive meaning, and by now it’s almost impossible to use the idiom peachy keen without summoning at least some notes of irony or condescension.
Dad: Hey kids, this weekend we’re going to visit nana and grandpa.
The Eldest: Wow. Peachy keen. We can hardly wait.
The best Web references regarding the origin of the expression peachy keen can be found on the always-enlightening English Language & Usage Stack Exchange, wherein it credits Jim Hawthorne, a West Coast radio disk jockey, with popularizing the idiom in the late 1940s. Citing a May 10, 1948 Time magazine article, Hawthorne is quoted as saying his broadcasts were carried over five Southern California stations on what he called “the net-to-net coastwork of the Oh-So-Peachy-Keen Broadcasting Company.”
Hawthorne’s ever-increasing popularity was due to him being a progenitor of what was soon dubbed “free-style” radio – a way of hosting that in Hawthorne’s case featured his original, always humorous, sometimes wacky, break-the-rules broadcasts that featured the use of West Coast Teen-Bop-Beatnik slang. I mean, can you dig it, daddy-o? Neat-o!
Hear Rizzo Use the Term
By attaching jelly bean after the words peachy keen, this two-part idiom also became a rhyming figure of speech, like see you later, alligator – after while, crocodile and till today youngsters are still delighted by this kind of nonsensical wordplay.
If readers still can’t quite get what the use of peachy keen was reserved for, below is a series of peachy-worthy people and things.