Tico Tico

Yesterday’s morning name, which (in my mind) came unavoidably with the Andrews Sisters’ 1944 version of the song in English (a feature of my childhood), in which tico tico represents the tick tock of a cuckoo clock.

(#1) The Andrews Sisters’ 1944 recording

You can listen to this recording here.

Then it turned out that it has a much more complex history.

The Ervin Davis English lyrics:

Oh, tico tico, tick!
Oh, tico tico, tock!
This tico tico, he’s the cuckoo in my clock.
And when he says “cuckoo, ”
He means it’s time to woo,
It’s tico time for all the lovers on the block.

I’ve got a heavy date,
A tete a tete at eight,
So speak, oh, tico, tell me if it’s getting late?
If I’m on time, cuckoo,
But, if I’m late, woo-woo!
The one my heart is gone to may not want to wait!

For just a birdie, and a birdie who goes nowhere,
He knows of every lover’s lane and how to go there;
For in affairs of the heart
My tico’s terribly smart,
He tells me: “gently, sentimentally at the start!”

Oh, oh, I hear my little tico tico calling
Because the time is right and shades of night are falling.
I love that not-so-cuckoo cuckoo in the clock,
Tico tico tico tico tico tock!

The Brazilian Portuguese model has very little to do with this, beyond an ornithological involvement. From Wikipedia:

“Tico-Tico no fubá” (“sparrow in the cornmeal”, or, literally, “rufous-collared sparrow in the cornmeal”) is a Brazilian choro song written by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917. Its original title was “Tico-Tico no farelo” (“sparrow in the bran”), but since Brazilian guitarist Américo Jacomino “Canhoto” (1889–1928) had a work with the same title, Abreu’s work was given its present name in 1931, and sometime afterward Aloysio de Oliveira wrote the original Portuguese lyrics.

… Outside Brazil, the song reached its peak popularity in the 1940s, with successful recordings by Ethel Smith, The Andrews Sisters (with English-language lyrics by Ervin Drake), Carmen Miranda and others.

It’s about the tico-tico bird that steals all of the singer’s fuba (cornmeal) so that she doesn’t have food to make her family dinner. Apparently made famous in (Brazilian) Portuguese by Carmen Miranda.

Miranda performing the song can be experienced here.

[Digression on Miranda. From Wikipedia:

Carmen Miranda (born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha; 9 February 1909 – 5 August 1955) was a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, dancer, Broadway actress, and film star who was active from the 1930s on. Nicknamed “The Brazilian Bombshell”, Miranda is known for her signature fruit hat outfit she wore in her American films.

Miranda in one of her fruit hats on a 2011 U.S. commemorative stamp:

(#2) ]

[Note on choro. From Wikipedia:

Choro  “cry” or “lament”), also popularly called chorinho (“little cry” or “little lament”), is an instrumental Brazilian popular music genre which originated in 19th century Rio de Janeiro. Despite its name, the music often has a fast and happy rhythm. It is characterized by virtuosity, improvisation and subtle modulations, and is full of syncopation and counterpoint. Choro is considered the first characteristically Brazilian genre of urban popular music. ]

Instrumental versions. The melody of the song, without any words, has been adapted for an enormous number of purely instrumental recordings of the song, for piano, solo guitar, etc. There’s even a lovely joyous performance by the Spiri Tango Quartet (2018) — piano, violin, accordion, cello — that you can watch here.

The movie. And, yes, there’s a movie. From Wikipedia:


Tico-Tico no Fubá is a 1952 Brazilian drama film directed by Adolfo Celi and starring Anselmo Duarte.

… The film is a fictionalized biography of Brazilian composer Zequinha de Abreu (1880–1935), who penned the song “Tico-Tico no Fubá” that became an international hit in the 1940s.


7 Responses to “Tico Tico”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Any connection with tico used to refer to a native of Costa Rica?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Why do you ask me? Are you incapable of looking for yourself? (The answer is no, and it takes about 30 seconds to discover this. But of course I didn’t know this before.) It’s really annoying that you keep asking me to be your research assistant.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        I’m sorry to have annoyed you once again. I asked because I thought you might know. I didn’t intend to “ask you to be my research assistant”. I suppose I could have made that clearer.

        It was also possible that other readers of your blog would have known.

        Does it work if I make a blanket statement now that nothing I ask here is intended as a request for you to do further research? Or should I say that every time?

      • Ellen Kaisse Says:

        FWIW, I read Robert’s query just as the kind of question that pops into one’s mind when reading an interesting blog, not as anything meant to be offensive or demanding. Sure, it’s great if readers do their own related research and post that, but I think it’s not unusual in this medium to just put something out there and see if it sparks discussion. But I am a new reader to Arnold’s blog and don’t know if there are ground rules or history here.

  2. Ellen Kaisse Says:

    What a cool entry! I was familiar with the song, just from hearing it out of the corner of my ear many times, but didn’t know its history or who performed it. Makes sense that the Brazilian words would be a folk-song-like topic about birds and having enough to feed the family, while the American adaptation would be about a hot date and a clock 🙂 I listened to the Miranda and Andrews Sisters versions. Both have their charms, but they’re so different! Miranda’s tempo is much faster, but I have to admit that the Andrews Sisters do a pretty good job of capturing the Brazilian dance rhythm. Thanks for all the research!

  3. Ellen Kaisse Says:

    And since this is a blog mostly about language, I can admit that the Brazilian word farelo in the original title sent me down a couple of shallow rabbit holes. It’s cognate with English farro, and the meanings of the related words all center around wheat, especially the kind of wheats called spelt. The Indo-European root also underlies the English word barley.

  4. thnidu Says:

    I first heard this song in Esperanto translation, probably in the ’60s or maybe the early ’70s.

    La zonotriko nun, denove kaj sen pun’
    Serene manĝas mian sakon de farun’.
    Se zonotriko volas bone manĝi, do
    En pomarbaro da fivermoj estas tro.

    The sparrow now, again and with impunity,
    Is calmly eating my bag of flour.
    If a sparrow wants to eat well, then
    There are too many vile worms in an apple orchard.


    I’ve always enjoyed its catchy beat and tune as well the rather silly words. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    Mark Mandel

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