Here's what "doodah" means -


: used to refer to something that the speaker cannot name precisely.
"From the poshest potpourri to the humblest dangly doodah."

Basic research showed that it comes from the early 20th century -

: Early 20th century (in the phrase all of a doodah): perhaps from the refrain of the song Camptown Races

(From Lexico)

Merriam Webster gives a more specific "first known use" - 1915. However, it says -

Doodah: History and etymology:
origin unknown

Etymonline doesn't expound the etymology and states no more than -

doodah (n.)
"excitement," 1915, from refrain of the popular minstrel song "Camptown Races."

Therefore, I would like to know more about the history and etymology of "doodah".


4 Answers 4


Doodah was, originally, a "non-lexical vocable" See Non-lexical_vocables_in_music. (Wikipedia). These are very common and of almost infinite variety

Non-lexical vocables, which may be mixed with meaningful text, are a form of nonsense syllable used in a wide variety of music. Common English examples would be "la la la", "na na na" or "da da da". [...]wordless vocables and syllables (e.g. "bippity-bippity-doo-wop-razzamatazz-skoobie-doobie-shoobity-bee-bop-a-lula-shabazz")

Doodah entered the English language from the song (see below), which was very popular, and still is.

De Camptown ladies sing dis song—Doo-dah! doo-dah!

De Camp-town race-track five miles long—Oh! doo-dah day!

I come down dah wid my hat caved in—Doo-dah! doo-dah!

I go back home wid a pocket full of tin—Oh! doo-dah day!

and now has has two meanings:

OED: doodah, n.

Etymology: < the refrain doo-da(h) of the plantation song ‘Camptown Races’.

  1. all of a doodah: in a state of excitement; dithering.

1915 H. Rosher In Royal Naval Air Service (1916) 97 I had lunch with the R—s and five daughters (swish, I was all of a doo-da!).

  1. = doodad n.

1928 D. L. Sayers Unpleasantness at Bellona Club v. 45 D'you mind stickin' all those dark-slides into one pocket and a few odd lenses and doodahs into the other?

doodad n.

Chiefly U.S. A ‘fancy’ article (of dress), a ‘thingummy’; esp. a trivial or superfluous ornament.

1920 S. Lewis Main St. xxiv. 298 Have a nice square house, and pay more attention to getting a crackajack furnace than all this architecture and doodads.

1928 Daily Express 24 July 8/4 Men detest flounces...‘More fakements and doodads! Why on earth cannot the woman keep things simple?’

Your answer is thus that the word was taken from the song and popularly associated with a meaning.


Merriam-Webster Online offers this entry for doodah:

doodah n British 1 : a state of tremulous excitement {opening night—all of a doodah — J.B. Priestly} 2 : a small, useful device : GADGET, DOODAD {These charming little doodahs are a surprisingly efficient and very stylish way to amplify your MP3 player. — Wales on Sunday, 21 Nov. 2010}

However, doodah appears as a slang term multiple times in Australian newspaper reports starting in the 1880s—first in connection with sporting competitions (where the intended meaning seems sometimes to be something like "inferior competitor" and other times to be, contrarily, something like "fancy ringer or dilettante") and later in more general use (usually in the sense of "city slicker or pompous yet often gullible dandy, dude, toff, or swell"). All of the instances that follow appeared in Australian newspapers before 1915.

'Doodah' as sporting slang for 'fancy dilettante or inferior opponent,' circa 1882–1892

From "Among the Peds," in the [Hay, New South Wales] Riverine Grazier (June 3, 1882):

Of the quality of the peds who took part at the late gathering, there can be no question as to the great superiority of Cox over there all, and the style in which he used to "come" on the outside and cut down his fields—or, as "Andy" positively puts it, "double up the Doodahs" near the tape, was a treat to see, and fully establishes his claim to the appellation of a first-water diamond flyer. Speaking of this appellation which I have heretofore applied, to Cox some of my readers say they fail to see where the application comes in, or what connecting link there is between a firstwater diamond and Cox? Well, sir, any old "sport" would fix the link in a moment and call it brilliant, or, to answer conundrum-wise, one is brilliant al(l)ways and the other at all distances, as a turn to the records of his career will undoubtedly show.

From an untitled item in the [Brisbane] Queensland Figaro (June 6 1885):

The Adavale "adjectives" have their own ways. These extend to racing. In some private sports held there the other day, there was a "Doo-dahs' Race." "The Duke" was winning hands down, when his "second in command" yelled out—"Pull up, yer beggar ; you've passed the winning post!" Whereupon the jockey pulled up—and lost the race. Brennan, another of the "Doo-dahs'," ran away right off the course at the start, had a race against himself, and finished a heavy winner, claiming the first prize, which consisted of a "brandy and lemonade."

From an untitled item in the [Brisbane] Queensland Figaro and Punch (February 4, 1888):

I clip the following very sensible letter from the St. George Standard:—Sir,—I see with pleasure the Jockey Club have made a race for bona fide stock horses. I have been a member of the club for some 12 or 13 years, but was determined not to pay up this year, because I and my mates had no chance of a race this year or two, but now the club have given us one I shall pay my £2 with pleasure, and hope to land the dollars with one of my old mokes. Now, sir, I should like to say a word to the stewards or whoever it concerns, and that is, that they see we poor stockmen get a fair run for our money. I don't see why we should have to run against the doo-dah racehorses of our masters or their friends sneaked into the Stockman's Purse as real stock horses. No, sir, they would not know a cow from a dog kennel, let alone draft one. I've read the conditions of the race and think them clear and straight, the only tiding to be done, is for the stewards to carry those conditions out to the very letter. I've also read the names of the stewards, and I and my mates are quite satisfied that they know, or ought to know, a doo-dah racehorse from one of our good old sorts.

From "Sporting" in the [Hay, New South Wales] Riverine Grazier (March 2, 1888):

"Bony" Bacon has gone into active training, and with his "doodah" polish on, will take a lot of beating on the 17th.

From "Sporting Gossip," in the Maitland [New South Wales] Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (November 3, 1888):

It is indeed a marvellous thing that a mere youth, not yet 23 years of age and who, a few shorts months ago was totally unknown except on his own provincial river, should to-day be the proud holder of the title of the champion sculler of the world. Henry Searle is undoubtedly the youngest man who has so far held the position, and as he is of splendid physique and constitution, and neither drinks nor smokes, it is pretty safe to predict that he will retain the honor for many years to come, unless his success runs him into a fast life, or his whilom opponent, young Jem Stansbury, improves greatly Notwithstanding the fact that Kemp could not row Searle a hundred yards he need not hide his diminished head, for he is probably the second best man in the universe to-day, and if he is no good, as some of his critics aver, what sort of doodahs must Hanlan and Matterson be? Yet they hold their own in any company. One thing is certain, and that is that Kemp will never again be champion of the world, and there appears to be a poor look out for any of the American scullers getting hold of the honor whilst Searle is in his prime.

From "Our Newcastle Letter: Our Swimming Club," in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Referee (March 6, 1889):

The majority of the aldermen do not possess one idea as to the promotion of sport, and the sooner they are ousted the better will it be for those who take an interest in the baths. It is long since Alderman Moroney moved that the baths should be leased, so as to give the champion swimmers of Sydney an opportunity of displaying their powers in the water, that his obstinate colleagues refused to hear of the proposition, preferring to give the privilege to a lot of "doo-dahs" who contribute, oh an average, about 1s. 6d. weekly to the municipal revenue. It is to be hoped that the club will be re-formed shortly under new auspices, and that the City Council will offer no more opposition to a laudable institution.

From "Sporting Gossip," in the Maitland [New South Wales] Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (July 27, 1889):

At the inception of the great pedestrian handicaps in Sydney some years back, and which have so extended until a Sheffield of more or less importance is now run in almost every little town which finds a corner in the map of the colony, I pointed out incessantly and as forcibly as I could the absolute necessity of reciprocity between promoters of these events in order to protect themselves and the public from the vagaries of dishonest and unprincipled pedestrians. My untiring attacks met with some response, and after the sport had been carried on an very funny fashion for a couple of years, the Sir Joseph Banks rules became fashionable, and it became possible for a promoter or club registered under these conditions to bring any roaming runner to justice at head-quarters who had been taking his country cousins down. But in other places no recognised rules existed, and a man who had been disqualified in one town simply packed up Ms traps and made for another place with the slightest ostentation and the biggest prize. With the marvellous growth in public favour of pedestrianism and the no less marvellous improvement in prizes, the education of peds in ways that are dark and tricks that are vain progressed so rapidly that the veriest doo-dah of a professional amongst them could easily put the "Heathen Chinee" on a special limit and give him a bad beating.

From "Carrington September Handicap of 165 Sovs," in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Referee (September 18, 1889):

Merchant had his usual luck in the draw. He invariably gets into a doodah heat or into red-hot company. He is always backed, and in the former case the money has to be bought, while in the latter he gets licked. Here he (on 38yds) met three wasters on 40yds in A. T. Gorman, Sims, and Merrick, and he only had to keep going to win in 12sec. Ten to 1 was laid on him before the pistol cracked, and he started at that price.

From "Sporting Gossip," in the Maitland [New South Wales] Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (July 16, 1892):

There should be excellent sport at the meeting of the Rosehill Racing Club this afternoon, provided that Jupiter Pluvius does not throw a damper on the proceedings. The Granville Stakes has secured the fine entry of forty-six, and the erratic Surprise has been honoured with 10st., a burden that should effectually prevent him from keeping up his reputation as an in-and-outer. The handicap has been made on rather peculiar lines, as the majority of the horses engaged are doo-dahs of the first water. It is difficult to say what will have a cut, but if she be in condition Spyglass should be about the best of a bad of a bad lot; May Day and Money-Spinner should also have a chance.

From "Siftings, Local and Otherwise," in the [Darwin] Northern Territory Times and Gazette (August 5, 1892):

Mr. Lukin, the father of Kimberley sports, lately purchased the invincible Golden Willie for £50 and is confident that this Kohinor is to scoop the pool. Larry Noonan, helped by Harry Oakes, has Nightlight and a few others to make up the contingent. Now if we can only get a couple of doodahs from Darwin where could you imagine more sports congregated in our little bush port town. We give £210 away at present with every chance of us putting another £50 to it. Speculation is rife and good sport will be the only outcome I can anticipate.

'Doodah' mainly as nonsporting slang for 'pompous, often gullible dandy,' circa 1894–1914

From "Riverstone," in the Windsor [New South Wales] and Richmond Gazette (October 6, 1894):

Another young blood has just started, and bids fair to rival "Pretty Boy" at scoring in the dance-room. He had his day out at the picnic on Monday, where his beaming countenance would almost have convinced one that indeed he was the "Jolly Miller"—and again at the dance held at night. The Doo-Dah's initial performance was eagerly watched by many of bis zealous companions. He could have "scored" almost anywhere, and no doubt after a few more performances, ''Pretty Boy" will have to take a back seat.

From "Towers Jockey Club," in the [Townsville, Queensland] Northern Miner (September 17, 1896):

Mr. Russell said he had heard complaints that a number of "doodahs" went over to the ladies' rooms for tea and intruded on the ladies privacy. It was decided to put a notice board "For Ladies Only" on the establishment, a hope being expressed this would have the desired effect, and curb the thirst of the males aforesaid, for tea.

From "The Novelist: A Reminiscence of Morgan," in the [Perth, Western Australia] West Australian (August 6, 1898):

"Ah, the Kellys were all right, but Morgan was the bloke that brought the squatters to their oats. My word ! I've knowed a few of the lads on the cross, an' I've sodgered a horse or two myself, but none of 'em come anigh Morgan. He was the poor man's friend right enough : that is, them as didn't make no bluff about ketchin' him. He was dead nuts on them sort. I mind one time when me an' a few more was camped a little below Albury buildin' punts for the snaggin' party, Morgan came along and showed us a taste of his quality. We had a doodah sort of a cove in the camp, a whitewashed Yankee he was, had been in America about twenty-four hours, and talked through his nose ever afterwards. Well, this dandy—Postle, he called himself—was everlastingly blowin' about what he'd do with Morgan if he got a chance. All the traps were cowards—accordin' to him ; none of 'em had as much pluck as a paddy melon. Let him jist get within arm's length of Morgan, an' he'd put the set on him quick. 'Twouldn't have mattered so much if he'd done his skitin' among us an' kept quiet elsewhere, but that wasn't his style. Whenever he got to the pub an' loaded up with fightin' rum, he bragged louder than ever. Some of us who knew the country warned him that he was heapin' up trouble for himself, but he wouldn't be advised. You see, the whole district was full of Morgan's friends and sympathisers, some of 'em pretty near as bad as himself, an' it was safe to bet that sooner or later he'd hear of Postle's threats. An', sure enough, he did."

From "Jottings by the Way," in the [Brisbane, Queensland] Queenslander (October 22, 1898):

The "Along the Line" writer in the Townsville " Bulletin" keeps his end up with anecdote all the time. And he uses a sarcastic pen at times. Thus: "The railway men have got a new hat, with each man's rank sewn on in front, in white stitched letters. This latter is a good line because there's a charming disregard of appearances with some of the railway men. The hat will set it right, and if you see a man with the sleeve of his shirt hanging out behind of his trousers you won't get taking him for a porter because his hat will tell you he's a station-master, or a first-class guard. And then again it straightened things the other way about, and if you see some doodah galoot with fur-lined gloves and a masher collar strutting about on the platform, like a turkey, you won't take him for the Commissioner, or the Traffic Manager, because his hat will tell you he's a greaser, or does sanitary work. ...

From "The Transvaal War: Letter from the Front" in the Kalgoorlie [Western Australia] Miner (October 18, 1900):

We all got new clothes yesterday, and not before we wanted them either. You ought to see my boots, now. When it came to my turn there was nothing but No. 9's left, and my pants and tunic were to fit a 6ft man, and with a 'doodah' hat three sizes too big. I look simply lovely.

From "Socialism at Rockdale," in the [Sydney, New South Wales] People and the Collectivist (December 8, 1900):

The meeting was held in the principal street, and was in continual contact with the local brass band which parades every Saturday night to advertise the shops and lure purchasers of their wares. Moroney and Drake had some trouble with a few beery idiots—and things were made a bit lively. Both of the beer eaters are in Government jobs—one is in the railway and the other has a good soft thing in the Customs. The middle class section and the 'doodah' brigade did not like the hard hitting. Altogether it was good business, though ; papers were sold, and the crowd stayed and listened for two hours. There are some good fellows there, but it is Rockdale and Rockheads, and Socialism will take some time to get a hold there.

From "Entertainments: Theatre Royal: Cogill's 'Bright Lights' Company,"the [Perth, Western Australia] West Australian (September 9, 1901):

Mr. Ted Holland was no less favourably received in the second part than he was earlier in the programme. He was required to contribute no less than three songs, "I know him well," "Right on my doodah," and "Hopping and popping about."

From "Current Events," in the [Townsville, Queensland] North Queensland Register (March 17, 1902):

The Imperial Government now and again does something really sensible. It has lately made a departure which is almost certain to have far reaching consequences; and that is the appointment of a horse trainer to have a quiet look at the remounts now being purchased in Hungary by the British Government. Even J.B. is tired of sending out younger sons of "County people" to waste the public's money. The appointment of Mr. Myles will no doubt be followed by those of a farmer to look after the national forage ; and a tailor to keep a watchful eye on Tommy Atkins' rig out. The days of the doo-dah officer with nothing definite about him except his ignorance and his drawl, are about numbered.

From "Oaks, Goats, Land Act, and Mortgages: Along the Line," in the [Townsville, Queensland] North Queensland Register (November 24, 1902):

At this hour I could pick out a good few grazing farmers and squatters who can thank their mortgagees for the food they eat, and the boots on their feet. At the same time, I'm always willing to cut in against these companies, who, all the time, have doo-dah managers, who don't know how many teeth a sheep's got ; or which end of a horse they'd be likely to be kicked at, and who couldn't tell cowdung from clay without tasting it. And these companies leave the destinies of decent, hard working men in the hands of creatures like these.

From "M'Guffin and De Buggins (An Election Episode)," in the [New South Wales] Freeman's Journal (August 20, 1904):

M'Guffin and De Buggins were the rival candidates / For a constituency known as Stoney. / De Buggins was a doodah dressed in fashion up-to-date', / Who hadn't an opinion of his own. He / Got his stock of principles from Opposition papers, / And had his speeches written by a "ghost." / A clever reckless ne'er-do-well, whose foolish drunken capers / Had stranded him on failure's dreary coast. / Still De Buggins was well mannered, though hi intellect was small, / Wore stylishly-cut clothes, a glossy hat, / Possessed blue eyes, a blond moustache, and the young ladies all / Considered him a real aristocrat

From "The Political Pillory: Read This To-day and Vote for Labour To-morrow," in the Argyle [New South Wales] Liberal and District Recorder (December 11, 1906):

The doodahs and upstarts who want fat and easy billets are gradually committing the Commonwealth to increased expenses in connection with military matters. The dude, who sits a horse like a sack of potatoes, has all the Federal politicians by the ear in expectation of a gold-laced, silver-buttoned sinecure.

From "State Parliament: Legislative Assembly," in the Maitland [New South Wales] Daily Mercury (November 22, 1907):

He [Mr. Edden] failed to see how this partial remission was going to benefit the labouring class men in receipt of salaries of £2 per week.

Lieutenant-Colonel Onslow: That is the only class you represent.

Mr. Eddon: I suppose you represent a class of "doodahs." I don't know who you are, or where you come from.: I suppose you are here pro tem. I suppose you represent somebody, God only knows whom[.] He said there were plenty of ways of utilising a surplus so as to benefit the poor class other than remitting the tax on incomes of those who were able to bear it.

From an advertisement for Marcus Clark & Co. clothiers in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Sunday Times (August 11, 1912):


For years past you have perhaps been troubled about the all-important question of Dress, not that you have wanted to be a "Doo-dah," far from it, but have wanted to look all that you should, and you have found it difficult to drop on the man to grasp exactly what you want.

From "Pars by 'Particle'," in the Bathurst [New South Wales] Times (September 7, 1912):

When in the Cathedral last Sunday night, two things struck me forcibly One being the number of vacant seats, especially when taking into consideration the fact that such an eloquent sermon was delivered for the benefit of those who "brag" about their virtues. The other was the number of hats that tended to obscure everything from those behind. Judging by the number of new hats that were on view for the first time publicly, some ladies change their hats nearly as often as the doodah boy changes his rainbow socks.

From "Random Ramblings," in [Sydney, New South Wales] People (December 21, 1912):

Listen, you "paddyrockels" of the submerged class : A few moments prior to the opening of the gates to admit the common herd, a doo-dah "cove" of the top-doggery sect of mankind, garbed in frock coat and wearing a modern stove-pipe, sidled up to one of the policemen and inquired, with a patronising air, when the gates would be open to permit the dogs entrance to Government House. That is the category in which the "cultured" capitalist class regard you workers, wither as dogs or cattle.

From B. Cecil Doyle, "Virginia's Experiment," in the Bunbury [Western Australia] Herald (January 25, 1913):

"Yer lazy good-fer-nothing tart," she began; 'can't yer look after the kids a bit and keep them from killin' themselves. I know all about yer doings, miss, neglecting the dooties youse is paid fer. That's being: a lady, I suppose! I don't want no ladies here. We're not fine enough' fer yer ; yer have to go and walk out with a doodah like Fanning. You'd better go altogether, me fine lass, with the pore kid scalded near to death while yer gallivanting and up to yer larks."

From "On the Wallaby[?]" in the [Charters Towers, Queensland] Northern Miner (June 11, 1913):

He belonged to the specie of globe trotters who travel about this sunny land of ours occasionally with a motor car grabbing nil the hospitality they can lay their hands and throats and teeth on, and then hie back to their foggy city of London, and sit themselves down to give, sunny-and hospitable Australia particular‚well—fits in a book! He—the haw globe-trotter in question—arrived at a far Western way-back town per said straight from Brisbane town. He had his huge touring motor oar with him aboard the train, end intended to take a tour through the haw-nevah-nevah country he had heard so much about. Arrived at the first wayside shanty, he confided to the shanty-keeper that he would like very much to meet a haw-real genuine whaler or sundowner. "You's 'as come just in time," said our shanty-keeper friend, "for 'ere is old 'Scandalous Joe,''Jist recovered from er burst." "Ah," said the globe-trotter, "I'd be haw-delighted to meet him." "Scandalous Joe" was duly introduced to the haughty gent, and the two refreshed and refreshed again, and again, at the globe-trotter's expense, of course. Joe was drinking whisky all the time, and whisky was a bob a nip, don't you forget. After a fair amount of whisky had been mopped up, "Scandalous Joe" [a "whaler"], began to feel himself again. Calling for another whisky, the globe-trotter remarked, "Bai Jove, I say, my dear friend, you seem to be a regular connoisure of—" "Now, look here, me blanky doodah," here broke in "Scandalous Joe," "the real genuine whaler, if you call me that blanky thing again, I'll break your blanketty, crimson, sanguinary neck! Don't you kid yourself, that yer can call me what you blanky well like, just because yer shouted a drink or two for us." The globe-trotter was satisfied about whalers after that.

From "Sporting Gossip," in the Port Pirie [South Australia] Recorder And North Western Mail (April 30, 1914):

The above is about one of the hottest jokes on record. The nearest approach to it that I remember was many years ago when a doodah jockey was paraded in the paddock with the colors up and a good jockey, the actual rider, hidden out of sight until the knocked-back betting market was depleted. The good rider then had the mount and won, but such a fuss was raised that the trick has never been repeated.

From "Some Turf Tit-bits from Down Under," in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Saturday Referee and the Arrow (May 9, 1914):

Dad kept tho store and Sonno helped around. Dad backed horses and won ; Sonno hoped to. One day Sonno drew his savings and asked dad for some 'tips.' Dad gave him three 'morals,' and a blessing. Sonno trained to Warwick Farm ; he looked at the card, and forgot the first 'tip.' He backed something he 'knew'; the 'tip' won. He took himself behind the grandstand, and gave himself an 'uppercut'—'that's for forgetting.' said he. Next time he backed something he 'knew,' the 'tip' won. This time it was a 'left-hook.' 'That's for being a blame fool,' said he. On the last race he hesitated, then put all he'd got left on something he 'knew'—the 'tip' won. He took himself slowly but firmly to a quiet place, and from his pocket drew his return rail ticket. He tore it up; 'walk back, you doodah,' said he—and he did.


Although Merriam-Webster indicates that the origin of doodah is unknown. Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventonal English (1937) hazards this guess in his entry for "all of a doodah":

doo-da or dooda(h), all of a. Excited : from late 1914. Ex the echoic refrain doo-da, doo-da, doo-da day, prob. on all of a dither.

The fifth edition of Partridge's Dictionary of Slang ((1961) includes this entry for doodah by itself:

doodah. A thingummy: since ca. 1910. 'Pass me th doodah.' Ex ooja-ka-piv ["prob. a corruption of nautical hook-me-dinghy or else ex Hindustani (as Manchon says); military, C. 20, it means a 'gadget—'anything with a name that one cannot at the moment recall"]—2. An air-raid siren: 1939–45.—3. A duodenal ulcer: since ca.1945. Partly ex sense 1 and partly ex duodenal.

It is certainly possible that that doodah in the sense of "big to-do" and doodah in the sense of "thingamajig" bear no close connection to each other—or to doodah as used in Australia between 1882 and 1914 (and beyond). Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to connect at least the British "big to-do" meaning and the Australian "ringer or inferior competitor" meanings (from which the "toff" meaning seems pretty clearly to have sprung) to Stephen Foster's 1850 song "Camptown Races." The song was being advertised in musical programmes in Sydney at least as early as November 12, 1852, and was widely recognized thereafter, even drawing parody versions as early as June 1866 in Melbourne. The fact that the earliest recorded uses of doodah in Australian slang involve footraces and horseraces offers a further connection to the song "Camptown Races."

It is also noteworthy that the British adoption of doodah seems to have arisen in 1914 or 1915—a period of intensive mingling between British and Australian troops in World War I. It seems at least possible that British soldiers brought the slang term back from overseas, at which point it quickly acquired a different meaning from the older Australian one. At the very least, it seems strange that Eric Partridge, Jonathon Green, and other specialists in English slang show no sign of being aware of the widespread use of doodah—and its curious evolution—in Australia from 1882 through the Great War.

  • 2
    An academic paper. +1
    – Centaurus
    Feb 26, 2020 at 23:29

GDoS seems to support the song origin:

(the refrain doo-da(h) of the plantation song ‘Camp-town Races’ (1850))

and shows earlier usages:


anything or anyone for which one cannot remember the name.

  • 1900 [Aus] Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 31 Oct. 1/3: He still remains elegible for a doodah Park stakes.

  • 1904 [Aus] Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 13 July 4/3: The second heat give the ‘doodahs’ a chance to get together and earn a bob or two.

In phrases:

all of a doodah (also all of a doo-da) in a fluster, in a state, very agitated.

  • 1915 [UK] H. Rosher With the Flying Squadron (1916) 97: I had lunch with the Rs and five daughters (swish, I was all of a doo-da!) and then spent the whole of the afternoon trying to get my beastly engine to go.

In this answer, I focus on the history of the word before the early 20th century and after "Camptown Races." From newspaper evidence, I can show that doodah became more generally associated with a minstrel refrain, that it had at least incidental usage relating to rowdy alcohol use, and that by the early 20th century it was possibly used in replacement of someone's name.

Musical Refrain

In the years after the publication of the minstrel song "Camptown Races" (1850), newspapers would circulate variants of the song, often under its most recognizable syllables, Doodah. For example, the February 14, 1862 edition of the National American out of Bel Air, Maryland featured a song with the subtitle, "Tune - Doodah." Written for the American Civil War, this anti-Confederate song begins:

Lying of late is all the style

With certain creatures mean and vile,

Who with traitors sympathize,

And aid the rebel cause with lies.

Chorus - Doo-hah -- doo-dah,

Oh doo-dah --doo-dab; da,

We're bound to lie all night,

We'er bound to lie all day,

For the truth we hate with all our heart,

Unless it goes our way

A decade later, an 1872 article describes a suite of singing that would greet candidates Victoria Woodhull and Frederick Douglass, including a song identified only as Doodah ("Presidential Guns at the Boston Barn," New York Herald, June 29, 1872). Given that Woodhull was a suffragette and Douglass an abolitionist, the use of a minstrel song like Doodah and other details from the article suggests a mocking tone:

But when the managers come to the Dolly Varden ticket, Woodhull and Douglass, what a glorious opportunity there will be for the Liberal Club, Faneuil Hall and the denizens of the Neck to display their knowledge of isms, and for the twenty thousand singers to immortalize themselves in the strains of "My Mary Anne" or "Doodah!"

Song adaptations would continue through the late 19th century. For example, on December 2, 1886, the Stark County Democrat printed "The Mugwump King," which also uses this refrain.

Alcohol Use

At the same time, uses of doodah reached beyond music. A September 20, 1873 mention in the miscellaneous section of the Cincinatti Daily Gazette adapts Doodah into a joke about drunkenness, though the precise punchline (with hooden) is obscure:

"Hooden doodah" is the latest Georgia drink. One guzzle is equivalent to two nights in jail

An 1887 mention follows a similar association, albeit with a variant, Hoo-dah. Perhaps the public singing was associated with public drunkenness ("Dave Banks' Murder. George Holmes Put on Trial for the Crime." Daily Critic, 6 July 1887).

On cross-examination, he said that Holmes would run after the boys and throw things at them when they taunted him by shouting "Hoo-dah." Holmes drank the whisky himself and wouldn't give him any.

Reaching for a Name?

Then in 1908, a usage crops up applying Doodah to a name, as if a kind of filler. Doodah seems to hold some amount of opprobrium against the speaker, a country editor who gets a little too close to his clients. ("Country Editor Does Not Need Sympathy from the Washington, (Iowa) Democrat." Macon Telegraph, 24 Aug. 1908, p. 2.)

He defers to his 'oldest subscriber,' who pays for a dozen copies to send to kin, and when he comes to town he speaks of 'our prominent citizen, Mr. Doodah,' and writes nice pieces about the team he drives and about how liberal he is at the church and in charity, when he knows doggone well that he pays the preacher in scabby potatoes and talks low to save wear and tear on his vocal chords and makes his wife go bare-foot in summer to save shoe leather. However, aside from that, the country editor is as independent as we said he was.

Either the author of this article uses Mr. Doodah as a generic filler for a country name, or he depicts the country editor using filler instead of the man's name. Either way, that is pretty close to the original definition given in the question: it refers to something the speaker doesn't know precisely.

Then by 1916 doodah is used in an advertisement to name a je ne sais quois in a sailor's outfit ("Washable Glace Gloves," Pawtucket Times, 4 Feb. 1916, p. 23. :

The cut also shows a modish sailor with pendent doodahs of beaver, which edges the collar and deep cuffs

The ornamental filler word comes into its own.


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