[Ads-l] da-dah! ta-dah! (was Re: Cap/Kap)
James Eric Lawson
jel at NVENTURE.COM
Fri May 7 05:35:18 EDT 2021
Having no rat in this race, my observations are invaluable, I'm sure.
Yet I see that 'ta-dah', expressing a dramatic flourish, appears in
Goethe's "*Zu Wallensteins Lager*" (1829, in _Goethe's Gedichte_, v 2, p
that is, Goethe's "[Supplement] To [Shiller's] Wallenstein's Camp". The
"Da dah! ta dah!" flourish also appears, unchanged but for the absence
of the second admirative point (!), in an early translation of Goethe's
poem by "J.S.", printed in _The Lady's Magazine and Museum_, April 1834,
In the translation (but not, so far as I can tell, Goethe's original),
the flourish is associated with a musical instrument by what appears to
be a stage direction: "Da dah! ta dah (Tuning his instrument)."
My resources and expertise are neither broad nor deep enough to
confidently analyze another pre-1913 appearance of 'ta-dah', as it
appears in _The Record-Union_ of Sacramento, California, 26 Apr 1899, p
6 col 4:
... I told [Geronimo] I wanted to paint another portrait of him. He
said: "How much you give?" I replied: "Same as I gave you before." He
said, very emphatically: "*Ta-dah!*" which means "no," and added: "Me
savey you make heap lot of money from my pictures. You must pay me so
much," and held up both hands twice and one hand once, which meant $25.
Taken at face value, Geronimo's use of 'ta-dah' seems to have no
connection with the flourish, and indeed, it doesn't take much looking
to find that 'dah' does at least sometimes mean "no" in
Mescalero-Chiricahua Apache; however, the meaning of the expression as
changed by the prefixed 'ta-' remains opaque to me. I suppose it's best
for me to accept the letter writer's gloss without question and conclude
that the "no" supposedly intended by Geronimo's 'ta-dah' is unembellished.
Geronimo's debatable "no" aside, given Goethe's use in German, and even
in light of the 1834 translation's editorializing, it seems that whether
'ta-dah' originates as a crosslinguistic verbal expression of an
instrumental flourish or an instrumental expression of a crosslinguistic
verbal flourish will not be resolved without "recourse to philosophy"
On 4/30/21 3:36 PM, MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY DEVCOM AVMC
> Thanks for taking the time to reply.
>> The horn is "imitating" or saying the word.
> Am I understanding you correctly:
> You're saying that the musical flourish represented here:
> was inspired by African-Americans who were descendants of
> Kikongo-speaking Africans who were enslaved and brought to America.
> Presumably, the African-Americans were saying "Tadaa!" in lieu of the
> English word "behold", and White musicians heard this, and represented the
> term with the two-note flourish we all know today at points in a show
> where an offstage expression of "Behold!" would be appropriate.
> That's an interesting theory; is there any way to test it?
> If it can't be tested, does it simply become a matter of faith -- you have
> faith that this (and many other terms which you have mentioned) originate
> in African spoken language, and migrated to vernacular (Black, and then White)
> English before ever appearing in the written record, and I (for example) have
> faith that, despite all its faults and holes, the written record doesn't demonstrate
> African-American origins of "tadaa!" as spoken by American showmen because
> that's not where it originated.
>> Nevertheless, I would advise you to consult the Kikongo language and its
>> lexicon if the origin of *tada* ‘behold!’, ‘look!’ < Kikongo *tadi /** tala*
>> ‘behold!, look!’ confuses you.
> Please don't mistake my interest in this particular term, and my failure to embrace
> its putative Kikongo origins, as "confusion". I'm not confused. I just don't think
> your assertions are sufficient to change my mind. I've been interested in "tadaa!"
> for quite a while:
> and would love to see _evidence_ that it came from somewhere other than a
> white magician. ("Pejaie Senrab"; Philip J Barnes, a 25 year old student and son of
> a banker in a town with less than 1% Black population. His background doesn't
> lead me to believe he picked up the term from his Black friends -- but I could be
> The horn is "imitating" or saying the word. The word itself is not
> imitating the horn. More specifically, the word, does not sound like the
> trumpet sound of which you speak. It is the word that gives rise to the
> musical sound of which you speak. This is the concept of the “talking
> instrument”, common most notably in African-derived musical practices. In
> the Americas, it is the Native Black American population who persistently
> practice the tradition of talking instruments - and to an extreme degree.
> All instruments are made to “talk” among the Native Black American
> population, and it is considered a marker of musical talent.
> That "musical flourish" is not meaningless; it - as well as the word *tada*
> - is employed to tell/prompt someone to "look!" or "behold!". The musical
> “sound” mimicking the word should have evoked some intellectual curiosity
> as to a potential African origin. The word’s use in everyday conversation –
> and not simply as a “musical flourish” – should have also raised at least
> some suspicion. And finally, the basic history of the United States, above
> anything else, should have prompted researchers to investigate the African
> languages for the word’s etymon.
> Nevertheless, I would advise you to consult the Kikongo language and its
> lexicon if the origin of *tada* ‘behold!’, ‘look!’ < Kikongo *tadi /** tala*
> ‘behold!, look!’ confuses you. You can also consult the Kimbundu *tala*
> ‘look!’ and the Kimbundu *kutala* ‘to look’, as well.
> As per your question, it is “incredible” because I expect intellectual
> curiosity and due diligence on the part of those charged with compiling
> dictionaries. The fact that it is erroneously explained across the board as
> “imitative” (in the very same country to which Africans – particularly from
> the regions of what are present-day Congo and Angola – were trafficked and
> enslaved in such large number) demonstrates a lack of due diligence. The
> toponyms *Angola*, *Congo*, *Banza* (< Kikongo *mbanza* ‘city, town’) and
> more occur no less than one-hundred times in total in the United States.
> The historical record points to Congo and Angola repeatedly as the primary
> places from which Africans were trafficked to the antebellum United States
> for enslavement. It is negligent to not consult the languages of the ethnic
> groups from the aforementioned regions in the study of American
> It should be noted that the Kikongo *tadi / tala* ‘behold!, look!’ is
> derived from the Kikongo *tala* ‘to look’; it is not English. The
> radicals/root-stems *tad-*, *tal-*, and *tat-* for 'to see, look at' are
> found throughout the Bantu region. Compare the Basaa *ntat-mbay* ‘sparrow,
> literally “house-watcher”’ < Basaa *ntat* ‘watcher’ < Basaa *tat* ‘to
> watch’ + Basaa *mbay* ‘house’. (It also occurs among this ethnic group as
> *ntad-mbay.*) The Basaa ethnic group is native to Cameroon – not Congo /
> Angola. A related radical/root-stem can be found as far as the Swahili
> coast with the same meaning. Since the Bantu languages are related, this
> should not be surprising.
> Zola Sohna
> The American Dialect Society - Caution-http://www.americandialect.org
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
James Eric Lawson
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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