A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the origin of "yadda yadda"?

January 23, 2003

Dear Straight Dope:

Was the widely used term "yadda yadda" really coined by the writers of "Seinfeld"? If not, where did it originate and when was the first known occurrence? I noticed that Christopher Buckley, in his book Thank You For Smoking, uses the term twice but spelled "yadda" in one instance and "yada" in another. It appears that the "Seinfeld" folks may have snared the sardonic rhetorician.

Alas! Perhaps Mr. Buckley was tripped up by his editor. (Are you listening, Little Ed?)

First, let's clear up one thing--neither Seinfeld nor his writers invented the term. It can be traced back with certainty to the controversial comedian Lenny Bruce in the early 1960s. Bruce grew up in the 1940s world of Jewish club comics, who often used routines and expressions dating back to the vaudeville era. But since the term was transmitted orally, it's hard to find early printed examples.

Jesse Sheidlower, principal North American editor for the Oxford English Dictionary, collected quite a bit of information about the phrase for The Maven's Word of the Day, a wonderful (but no longer active) Web site maintained by Sheidlower's previous employer, Random House. You can look up the article resulting from his research under the Ys. Sheidlower includes variants such as yaddega-yaddega-yaddega and yatata-yatata-yatata from the 1940's, so it seems certain that yadda-yadda-yadda is a variation of a phrase used in pre-1940 vaudeville.

Incidentally, the similar expression yackety-yack, which was popularized in the 1950s, can probably be related back to the term yack, used before 1900 to mean talk. Blah-blah-blah shows up in the 1910s. 

So, as they say, "everything old is new again"--or to put it another way, it's all just stolen material.

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