Blah, Blah, Blah

By Maeve Maddox

Since ancient times, speakers of every language have made up nonsense syllables to indicate contempt for what other people were saying to them.

We’ve even inherited the ancient Greek nonsense syllables bar-bar-bar in the word barbarian: The Greek word barbaros meant “foreign, strange, ignorant.” According to the OnlineEtymology Dictionary, the word barbaros was an onomatopoeic formation echoing the unintelligible speech of a foreigner.

The most common nonsense syllable used to represent empty talk in the United States is blah:

The earliest OED documentation of blah in the sense of “meaningless, insincere, or pretentious talk or writing; nonsense, bunkum” is 1918.

Blah is usually repeated when the sense is “empty talk”:

When big data is just so much “blah, blah, blah”

Getting Past “Blah, Blah, Blah” When Talking to Prospects

Sometimes a single blah means the same thing:

I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of jabber in the world – it’s a vast cloud of blah.

As a plural noun, “the blahs” are a state of despondency:

You’ve got the blahs.  You’re not feeling hopeless, but you’re not feeling good either.

As an adjective, blah means “lethargic, unenthusiastic, listless, or torpid”:

What to Do When You Feel Blah About Your Job

“Blah, blah, blah” recently found its way into the news when a political candidate in Oregon blasted a newspaper reporter who demonstrated his lack of interest in what another candidate was saying by writing down “blah, blah, blah” instead of her actual words.

And perhaps the longest sequence to date of this string of nonsense syllables occurs in a television ad in which actor Gary Oldman holds a telephone to his ear and says “blah blah blah” for five seconds straight.

Another set of nonsense syllables is “yada yada yada.” Variations of this utterance are documented in the OED beginning in 1947. I first heard it on the Jerry Seinfeld show where I understood it to mean “details too boring to mention.”

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4 Responses to “Blah, Blah, Blah”

  • Nancy Romness

    I had heard “yada yada yada” long before the Jerry Seinfeld show used it. Some sources, such as dictionary.com, say that it comes from Yiddish. (“fr Yiddish and Hebrew yadaa ‘to know'”)

  • B Rambo

    Another long string of “blahs” occurs in Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio replaces the Bard’s witty, if dated, sarcasm with a long string of nonsense. Equally sarcastic, but less erudite, I deem.

  • ApK

    Great Howie Mandel bit:

    “People are always approaching me on the street. One guy came up to me with the ususal ‘Howie, I love your work, , blah, blah, blah…’
    “I cut him off and said ‘Sir, if you want to talk to me, use real words. If you just say “blah, blah, blah” then I can’t understand you.'”

  • D.A.W.

    The Russian word for “German” means “people who can’t talk” because centuries ago, the Russians “couldn’t understand a word” of what the Germans were saying.

    I guess that the Russians could figure out something about what these people were talking about: Poles, Bulgarians, Czechoslovakians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Serbs, Croats, Belorussians, etc., because like Russian, these are all Slavic languages. I still haven’t found out how close together Russian and Ukrainian are. It could be that these two languages are like Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish, which are not very different at all. They are more like dialects of a Norse language, and Norwegian has at least two dialects of its own: Bokmal and Landesmal.

    The German word for Russia means “land of soot”, and that is the origin of our word “Russia”. The German word is “Russland”.
    D.A.W.

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