A Blah HistoryOn April 17, 2019 by Elyse
“Blah” is a relatively recent addition to our lexicon, first appearing in 1918. Considering the wide range of complex emotions it conveys, it’s a wonder the English language did without it for so long. But once blah went mainstream, it showed up in all sorts of contexts.
These days, some consider shaking hands to be unsavory, unhygienic and downright disgusting. However, in 1926, one businessman, determined to be more economical in his choice of words and everything else, described the practice as simply “blah.”
Even given blah’s multifarious uses, I’m still scratching my head over what he meant. Fortunately, noted advice columnist Dorothy Dix’s use of the word that same year is more intelligible to modern readers.
In a column listing different types of men to avoid, she warned female readers against the “unappreciated genius,” who:
Craves someone who will understand him and to whom he can pour forth his sorrows. . . The flappers are safe from him because they are too hard-boiled to fall for any blah stories. Besides they have neither time nor use for the might-have-beens or the going-to-bes. They want the man who has the coin to spend on them right now and here.– The Herald-Journal, April 27, 1926
Hard to tell if she was warier of the unappreciated geniuses or the flappers who spurned them.
A not-particularly-funny Freckles and His Friends comic strip provides insight into both blah’s usage in 1938 and the international political situation on the eve of the most destructive conflict in history:
. . . then again, perhaps I’m reading too much into at least one of those things.
In a 1947 column, Walter Winchell recounted a series of anecdotes about politicians butting heads with journalists; one of them featured New York Times reporter and battleship namesake Richard V. Oulahan. Spoiler alert, he cut through the “blah-blah” to come out on top:
Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above historical articles. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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