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What is the most common or correct spelling of "blah blah blah"?

  • blah blah blah
  • blah blah
  • bla bla bla
  • bla bla

My question stems from when I first wrote it as "bla bla bla" in an English text, but a friend told me it should have been written as "blah blah" so I decided to ask here.

Before that I had checked it out on some online English dictionary and Google search but I wasn't able to clear it out.

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The phrase "blah blah blah" is so informal as to not warrant an official, correct spelling by any authority. So only practice defines (circularly) what is the most common. And that seems to me 'blah blah blah'. – Mitch Aug 24 '12 at 15:23
@hippietrail: the spelling of "blah" is GR, but that's not even what's being asked here. Frankly, I don't know what is being asked here - taken at face value, it's akin to asking, "How do you spell 'wub wub wub'?" - either you've answered your own question by asking it, or there's some fairly important context you've omitted. – Shog9 Aug 24 '12 at 16:17
@Shog9: Well I disagree. English has no academy. All the big dictionaries have disclaimers that they should not be used as language authorities but rather as descriptions. Style guides may have something to say but because of the colloquial nature of the terms they may not, making it not straightforward. But even if dictionaries and style guides don't have the answer it's perfectly reasonable for a non native speaker or anyone else to want to try to choose the best variant in their writing. No answer tells us what the references say and the answer with the statistical approach is wrong. – hippietrail Aug 24 '12 at 16:22
I'm against closing it, especially with no comments apparently taking the question in good faith. And I'm also pointing out what seems to be an inconsistency in the reasoning behind the closing. To me it's perfectly clear what's being asked and perfectly obscure what problem you find with it. That said, @JohnS: do you think you could add some background or detail? – hippietrail Aug 24 '12 at 16:26
I, too, am not quite sure how this question is fundamentally different from "pricy vs pricey", "despite vs despite of", "alright vs all right", "grey vs gray", and countless others. Some of these actually got Joel and Jeff gold Publicist badges. – RegDwigнt Aug 24 '12 at 16:44

The phrase "blah blah blah" and the single word 'blah' are both very informal. In fact, even though the OED is pretty descriptive, I'm surprised it has an entry for 'blah' (it is not something I expect in print, and that's all that OED relies on).

As to what constitutes a standard, for English, there is no government supported official body, like the French Academy, which dictates usage. It is a little more decentralized in English writing culture, relying on style guide writers (from book or newspaper publishing houses or self declared but recognized experts), and the primary and secondary school systems.

The phrase is informal enough so as not warrant an official, correct spelling by any authority. Because of its informality, one would not expect a magazine or newspaper editor to regulate its spelling because they would just try not to have it appear at all.

This might seem disingenuous because after all it is in the OED and there are many instances written on the net. Some people do write it. But the authorities on what should be written would probably say that it should not be written at all.

Then it falls to practice. And only practice defines (circularly) what is the most common. And that seems to be 'blah blah blah'.

Your friend 'corrected' you by telling you what he's seen more often. 'correct' and 'common' are not the same thing, but when there's no correctness authority it is all we have to go on.

As to whether two or three repetitions, I've never heard or used less than three in speech; if you're going to spout nonsense, might as well go all the way.

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One place you couldn't avoid writing it is in dialogue, another is in quoted speech. If somebody famous used it in something worth writing about, whoever writes it will have to choose a spelling (though they won't have to choose the number of repetitions). Another point I just thought of is that if you do have cause to include it in your own writing, and you use it more than once, then be consistent and use the same spelling each time. – hippietrail Aug 24 '12 at 17:46
@hippietrail Yes, I agree. Up until recently, it has however been the habit to edit speech considerably, removing infelicities, dysfluencies, interjections, vulgarities, and 'non-words' that -are- words but are just too informal. So it really could come up in a newspaper how to 'properly' spell some 'non-word'. Let's call up 'The New Yorker' and ask! – Mitch Aug 24 '12 at 19:56
It seems that the Australian newspapers currently all aways use "blah blah blah", though sometimes with intervening commas. It's much more common in the lower-brow paper though. – hippietrail Aug 24 '12 at 20:05
@hippietrail hmm...then I don't actually know anything. I feel the whole thing is like 'how to spell Tchaikovsky?', everyone tries their best until one is settled on. Everyone is low brow now (doesn't the NYT quote vulgarities now? eg the famous Bush slip). I mean, how do spell properly the sub-human grunt for 'No': nunh-unh? unh-huh? – Mitch Aug 24 '12 at 20:10
There was a bit more variation in the British papers I checked and the high-brow The Times only had about three hits... but yes this seems to be how it is. At least now we've investigated and documented it (-: – hippietrail Aug 24 '12 at 20:16

Just for giggles behold the Google Ngram: enter image description here "blah blah" is clearly more common. Due to feedback, here's another silly metric:

Google search results:

bla bla:        about 54,100,000
bla bla bla:    about 36,300,000
blah blah:      about 68,800,000
blah blah blah: about 54,400,000

Not exactly conclusive, but blah blah still wins... see hippietrails comment, he is better at googling than me.

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Wait, if the text has "blah blah blah", then the string "blah blah" also matches it, but does it match twice? – GEdgar Aug 24 '12 at 16:08
@DanielCook: You can make a rough comparison using Google or another search engine that supports an operator to omit results with certain terms. This is what I got, your results may vary: "bla bla" -"bla bla bla": About 23,500,000 / "blah blah" -"blah blah blah": About 24,900,000 / "bla bla bla": About 26,500,000 / "blah blah blah": About 28,500,000 -- so they're all in the same ballpark but bla bla is least popular and counter to your findings, blah blah blah is most common. – hippietrail Aug 24 '12 at 16:17
@tchrist: I disagree: it tells you that blah is more common than bla, for one thing. I do agree that a comment is needed about how "blah blah" probably includes "blah blah blah". – Cerberus Aug 24 '12 at 16:38
@hippietrail: We don't know how Google's search algorithms work exactly. I have found some extremely contradictory results at various times, where things like "hello -hi" got more results than "hello" (something like that). – Cerberus Aug 24 '12 at 16:47
The Google search results are useless here, because they include all languages. In German, for example, "bla bla" is the equivalent of the English "blah blah blah". I suggest we check COCA and BNC instead. – RegDwigнt Aug 24 '12 at 17:12

"Bla bla" to me looks like I would spell it in German. In English you probably (my theory) need the "h" at the end to ensure pronunciation.

A dictionary is seen by most people as a language reference. However, the editors of a dictionary do not define a language.

In the German-speaking world, the verb "to google something" for "to look something up on the internet" was included in a famous German dictionary for the wide and common usage. This demonstrated how language is not defined by dictionaries. If words enter common usage they become part of the language and therefore the dictionaries are at some point obliged to include this words.

So, if "blah" is the most common spelling of this word, you probably will find it at some point in time in you trusted English dictionary.

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Blah blah blah is the normal way to spell it. Bla looks kind of blah.

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Please support your answer with reliable sources or specific expertise. – MετάEd Jan 1 '13 at 23:35

protected by RegDwigнt Jan 2 '13 at 13:37

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