April 24, 2013

“Yada Yada Yada…”

During its long, successful original run on NBC, from 1989 to 1998, the Seinfeld TV show created or popularized several memorable catchphrases.

There’s the Soup Nazi’s famed dictatorial snub: “No soup for you!” The sexual euphemism “master of your domain.” The food-related faux pas term, “double dip.” And, the handy denial of prejudice, “Not that there's anything wrong with that.”

My own favorite Seinfeld catchphrase is “yada yada yada.”

It was first used on the episode that originally aired on April 24, 1997, appropriately titled “The Yada Yada” (Season 8, Episode 19).

In that episode, the phrase is initially used by the character Marcy (played by Suzanne Cryer), the girlfriend of George Costanza (Jason Alexander), while she’s talking to George and Jerry Seinfeld.

MARCY:  You know, a friend of mine thought she got Legionnaire’s Disease in the hot tub.
GEORGE:  Really? What happened?
MARCY:  Oh, yada yada yada, just some bad egg salad. I'll be right back. (She gets up)
JERRY:  I noticed she’s big on the phrase “yada yada.”
GEORGE:  Is “yada yada” bad?
JERRY:  No, “yada yada” is good. She’s very succinct.
GEORGE:  She is succinct.
JERRY:  Yeah, it’s like you’re dating USA Today.

As the episode proceeds, almost all the characters start using “yada yada yada” as a way to gloss over and shorten events, similar to the way people use “blah blah blah” or “and so on, and so forth.”

One of the funniest uses is by George, in a scene now posted on YouTube under the title “George Costanza Life Story.”

MARCY:  So I'm on Third Avenue, minding my own business and, yada yada yada, I get a free massage and a facial.
GEORGE:  Wow. What a succinct story.
MARCY:  I’m surprised you drive a Cadillac.
GEORGE:  Oh, it’s not mine. It’s my mother’s.
MARCY:  Oh. Are you close with your parents?
GEORGE:  Well, they gave birth to me, and, yada yada.
MARCY:  Yada what?
GEORGE:  Yada yada yada…

“The Yada Yada” script was written by veteran TV writer Steve Koren, a former member of the Saturday Night Live writing team who wrote or co-wrote dozens of other Seinfeld episodes.

Koren didn’t coin “yada yada yada.”

But the origin is still being debated by word mavens and etymology buffs.

It is generally recognized to have been part of Jewish-American slang, in various forms and spellings, since at least the 1940s. It may come from the Hebrew word “yada” or “yadaa,” which means (among other things) tell, know or show.

The Oxford English Dictionary contributor Barry Popik cites a list of pre-Seinfeld variations, such as “yatata, yatata, yatata,” on his excellent Big Apple site. And, the OED itself suggests that “yada” may have been derived from the British word “yatter,” meaning mindless chatter.

The bottom line when you read all the yada yada yada in the various theories is that nobody really knows the exact origin.

But the Seinfeld show clearly deserves credit for making “yada yada yada” part of our current cultural lexicon.

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