6.0079 Q: 'da dah da dah da dah...' (1/53)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 15 Jun 1992 21:28:48 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0079. Monday, 15 Jun 1992.

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 92 11:56:44 CST
From: (Dennis Baron) <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: etc.

I am posting this on 3 lists; please excuse the (re)duplication.

A couple of years ago I noted what I perceived to be a new speech
phenomenon, an equivalent of etcetera, etcetera, etcetera or
blah blah blah. It usually sounds something like this:
da 'dah da dah' da dah' da dah' da dah' (the vowel in the 1st syll
is usu. a schwa) -- that is to say, a set of iambic syllables
used to complete a list, often reporting something
someone said or did.

For example, "And then, she goes, like, `brown'? and I'm like
`Really' and you know, and, da dah da dah da dah.

For want of a better term I called this a completive in a note I published
in _American Speech_. William Safire picked it up in his NYTimes
"On Language" column and termed it a "dribble off" which is certainly

It isn't particularly clear what the origin of this item is. Some
have suggested the Morse code dit dah. Others a slurring of and on and
on and on. Certainly both can be supported from pronunciation evidence
(often the di dahs are nasalized).

Anyway, while I hadn't found any in print at the time, I predicted
it wouldn't be long before this particular completive would appear.
And it has. In Tom Kakonis's novel _Criss Cross_ (shows you what my
summer reading runs to) NY: St. Martin's Press 1990 (paper ed. 1991),
p. 103, we find a sole instance of the phenomenon, clearly influenced
by the Morse Code etymology:

" . . . so Darlene don't show up and I'm coverin' two stations,
really bustin' butt, and this old fart flags me down and starts in
his eggs is runny and his toast is burned and his hash browns cold
and it's all _my_ fault, if you can swallow that, and he's not
gonna pay, da-dit, da-dit, da-dit. And I'm like, wow, pardon me
for bein' on the same planet."

So, now, two questions:
1. Has anyone else dealt with this form in speech or writing, and if so
what do you think is going on?
2. Anyone got any more printed examples?

PS, though Kakonis is of the hard-boiled school of dialogue writing,
the jacket blurb says he has been a professor in several Midwestern
colleges, so perhaps his hint at Morse code is an
over-intellectualization of the speech sounds?

Dennis Baron debaron@uiuc.edu
Dept. of English office: 217-244-0568
University of Illinois messages: 217-333-2392
608 S. Wright St fax: 217-333-4321
Urbana IL 61801