What is the origin of the phrase "la ti dah"? Two famous usages of the phrase: it is exclaimed often by the title character in the movie 'Annie Hall', and it is used the lyrics of singer Van Morrison's first hit song 'Brown Eyed Girl'. This spelling of the phrase is approximate. There are variations, "La di da" being one.

  • Welcome to English Language &Usage. I searched EL&U history for a dupe. Cannot find one. That said, you need to show basic research to stay on-topic. In the meantime +1 Jun 8, 2022 at 17:25
  • 7
    la-di-da (interj.) mocking affected gentility, 1874, a derisive imitation of the "swell" way of talking. Compare lardy-dardy (1859). Etymonline
    – user 66974
    Jun 8, 2022 at 17:28
  • 1
    It's la-di-da spelled any way you please, but with all D's, no T. It's a slang word in English referring to upper-class manners (with reference to the fact that the English upper class speaks French) from the viewpoint of the lowerclass. Hence it's intended to be an insult. Jun 8, 2022 at 18:12
  • 2
    It sounds (to me) like it may have originated in some way from the last three notes of the musical scale - "la - ti - doh" (as relating to high end of the "musical scale" - etc.)
    – user22542
    Jun 8, 2022 at 18:29
  • 1
    I don't think it's from any actual French phrase, it's just intended to evoke what it sounds like when an Englishman tries to use French phrases. Similar to the way one might say "ching chong" to sound Chinese, or lots of gutteral sounds for Arabic.
    – Barmar
    Jun 8, 2022 at 20:06

1 Answer 1


Dictionary discussions of 'la-di-da'

J.E. Lighter, Random House Dictionary of American Slang (1997) has this entry for la-di-da:

la-di-da adj. {shortening of earlier Br[itish] E[nglish] lardy-dardy, perh[aps] imit[ative] of affected speech} affected; pretentious; precious in expression or manner Also var[iation]s. Also as interj[ection]. [Earliest three cited occurrences:] {1861 in Farmer & Henley [Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present (1896)] IV 156: With your lardy-dardy ways and your cold-blooded words.} {1873 in Weekley [Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1921)] 816: With our lardy-dardy garments we were really "on the spot."} a1889–90 in Barrere & Leland Slang II 7: A group...composed of lah-de-dah youths (now known as imitation dudes).

The original entry in Farmer & Henley reads (in part) as follows:

LARDY, adj. (common).—Grand ; rich ; SWELL (q.v.). LARDY-DARDY = affected; effeminate; LARDY-DAH (or LA-DI-DA) = a swell or fop. To DO OR COME THE LARDY-DAH = to dress up for the public. [Earliest three cited examples:] 1861. MISS BRADDON, Trail of the Serpent, Bk. IV. ch. vi. 'You're not much good my friend,' says I, 'with your LARDY-DARDY ways and your cold-blooded words, whoever you are.' 1870. London Figaro, 8 June. The fast young men among the natives—called in their favourite slang LARDY-DARDY coves—affect a pronunciation in which the 'v's' are substituted for the 'w's' and vice versa. 1871. ATKINS, House Scraps, p. 166, The young 'un goes to music-halls. And does the LA-DI-DA.

Weekley's entry for la-di-da looks like this:

la-di-da, lardy-dardy. ?Imit[ative] of affected, haw-haw, type of speech. Dates from the sixties, but its great vogue was due to a music-hall song of 1880—He wears a penny flower in his coat, La-di-da! [Cited example:] Last May we went to Newmarket, we had a festive day, / With a decentish cold luncheon in a tidy one-horse shay; / With our lardy-dardy garments we were really "on the spot" / And Charley Vain came out so grand in a tall white chimney-pot (A.C. Hilton, Light Green, 1871).

Early occurrences of 'lardy-dardy' in the wild

I found just one instance of "lardy-dardy" that is older than the one from Mary Elizabeth Braddon, The Trail of the Serpent (1861/1866) cited by Lighter. From "Greaswick for Coalheavers: or, The Alderman's Election," in The Amateur's Magazine (1859):

"Recollecting that Mr. Greaswick was esteemed nothing more than a plain, common-sense sort of man, when the Common Council was first giddy height enough for his ambition, he [Mr. Plummer] must express his surprise at hearing him spoken of, at this late hour of the day, as a man of pre-eminent! abilities. ... If, then, he [Mr. Greaswick] had other shining lights than the ostentatious show in his shop-front, he must have been hiding them under a bushel from those who, like himself, having known him longest, also thought they must know him best—which was, to say the least, unkind and deceitful. Not that he {Mr. Plummer] wanted to deny him his due. It was exaggerated flattery he always felt provoked and disgusted with. Such absurd palaver, and lardy-dardy talk as that of his grand mover and seconder."

Google Books and Hath Trust searches turn up nine others from the 1860s, however. From George Sala, The Strange Adventures of Captain Dangerous, serialized in Temple Bar (June 1862):

By and by the Gentleman was dressed, and a very smart appearance he made in a blue shag frock laced with silver, a yellow waistcoat bound with black velvet, green paduasoy breeches, red stockings, gold buckles, an ivory hilt to his sword, and a white feather in his hat. ... Under the hat, which had a kind of Sunday Maryleabonne cock to it, there bulged out a might White Periwig of fleecy curls, for all the world like the coat of a Bologna Poodle Dog, and in the middle of his Wig there peeped out a little hatchet face, with lantern jaws, and blue gills, and a par of great black eyebrows, under which glistened a pair of inflamed eyes, He was not above five feet three inches, and his fingers, very long and skinny, went to and fro under his Point ruffles like a Lobster's Feelers. The Chaplain, who waited upon him as a Maid would on a lardy-dardy woman of Fashion, handed my Gentleman a very tall stick with a golden knob at the end on't, and with this, and a laced handkerchief and a long cravat, which he had likely bought at Mechlin, and a Snuff-box in the lean little Paw that held not the cane, he looked for all the world like one of my Grandmother's Footmen who had run away and turned Dancing Master.

From a review of Captain Dangerous in in The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art (October 3, 1863):

Every novelist has a right to fix the conditions under which his characters speak or write; but it is well not to push the privilege too far. It is mere licensew in mannerism to make Captain Dangerous say that "he values not a bagadine the leasing of such treacherous and clapper-dudgeons," or praise his daughter's skill in "confeeding of diapasms and pomanders," or describe Horace Walpole as a "lardy-dardy macaroni gentleman." Language like this may be a feat of "inelegant pedantry," but it is not plain, or even old-fashioned, English.

From Henry Byron, Orpheus and Eurydice; or, the Young Gentleman Who Charmed the Rocks (1864):

ORPHEUS. Answer my question, madam!

EURIDICE. (aside) He's so jealous. What shall I say?

ORPHEUS. One of those haw-haw fellows, / Who used to hang around you—lardy dardy, / Pois'ning the atmosphere with their pomadey / Oppressive presence, till the air, so dense, / I shortly lightened with my common scents.

From William Neville, "Too Late!" in The Dollar Monthly Magazine (July 1865):

It so happened that there was a young fellow in Arthur's office whose name was Claude Hainworth. He was by no means one of Arthur's intimate friends, for he rather belonged to what was generally known as the "lardy-dardy" school. Claude Hainworth knew every one, of course, and those about whom he knew nothing were fair fields for exaggeration and romance. He had rather the idea that he was an oracle at the "Docket and Precis Office;" whereas he was merely tempted into braying out hi absurdities, and was daily laughed at behind his back, and despised for his pains. Arthur Lumsden thought he was a foolish fellow, but was oo good-natured to abuse him. In fact, he was constantly chaffed for always sticking up for "that idiot Hainworth."

From "Fun's Twelfth Night Characters," in Fun (January 12, 1867):

  1. The Twelfth Night Monarch, widely known to fame, / King Nobody the Noughth, his noble name. / 2. A gallant Captain of the Household Guard. He, / As you perceive, is very lardy-dardy.

From "Our National Minstrelsy," in Melbourne Punch (December 10, 1868):

There's the one-a-penny swell, / There's the two-a-penny swell, / And the lardy-dardy party. / There's the one-a-penny swell, / There's the two-a-penny swell, / And all such heavy swells—swells.

From Edward Blanchard, Beauty & the Beast, Or, Harlequin and Old Mother Bunch: Grand Comic Christmas Pantomime (1869):

I'm not so very handsome, but you well may understand / I'm rich enough to marry any lady in the land. / I have a rough outside, but then my feelings are acute, / And so refined, they call me here the Lardy-dardy Brute. / Get ready for your journey—you will quickly have to start; / And tell your daughter Beauty she must instantly depart.

From "Hurlingham," in Vanity Fair (June 26, 1869):

Old Lady Dorothy, as that insufferable Lardy Dardy; who wolls his R’s has often observed, is not very fond of my attentions to her pretty niece [Olivia]; and he winds up his pleasant remarks by saying, "And you know, my dwear fwellow, your impecuniosity and pwersonal attwactions are not such as to induce any sensible chapewone to entertain them fwa a moment."

But Lardy Dardy; be hanged, and let me return to the moment when Olivia, after making one or two common-place observations, asked me to describe a bull-fight to her.

And from "Rowing," in Baily's Magazine of Sports and Pastimes (December 1869):

Kelley issued a challenge to the Tyne men, which was accepted by Renforth with the idea that a pair-oared match was intended, but when it was clearly explained that it was to be double-sculling, he pluckily adhered to his bargain, though this style of boat is utterly unknown on the Tyne, while Kelley has become an expert at the work from constant practice with the City Leviathan, who first introduced this style of outrigger, which is generally rather despised by practised oarsmen. Gigs of this rig are, however, much affected by lardy-dardy; up-river gents, who think it looks pretty, and lack the watermanship required to steer a pair by the bow oar. Kelley's was a capital craft, nearly new, while Renforth had to row in a transmogrified pair, rigged up for the occasion; and though the northern champion is un- doubtedly a better sculler than Kelley, Sadler is far more superior to Taylor, who, judged through Percy, is a long way behind him.

Early occurrences of 'la-di-da' in the wild

A Hathi Trust search yields only one English language instance of "la-di-da" from the 1860s, and the meaning of the occurrence there is rather obscure. From William Hayes, "Selected Songs Sung at Harvard College, from 1862 to 1866" (1866):

Oh! I could mix a lemonade, a cocktail or gin fizz, / 'Twas given out that none about could beat me at my biz; / "Oh! you're a lally cooler, Pete,—a reg'lar la-di-da!" / They'd wink at me, and bet a V I'd drink behind the bar. / CHORUS.—I never drink—behind the bar, etc.

In one of its two entries for "la-di-da," The Century Dictionary Supplement (1909) credits Notes and Queries with having identified an instance of "la-di-da" as a verb from a song performed in 1867:

la-di-da a. and n. {Also extended ladidady, spelled lardy-dardy; syllables suggestive of a languid or mincing speech or manner.} I. a. Languidly genteel in speech or manner; foppishly affected. II. n. A languidly genteel person; an affected fop or 'swell.' {Colloq.}

la-di-da v. i. {Also extended lardy-dardy a.} To act in a languidly genteel manner; pose as a 'swell.' [Example:] I like to la-di-da with the ladies, / For that is the style that suits / The noble name and glorious fame / Of Captain de Wellington Boots." Stirling Coyne, The Widow Hunt, quoted in N. & Q., 9th ser. VIII. 19. [1901]

The earliest instance of "la-di-da" that I could find in the sense of "lardy-dardy" is from "A London Pilgrimage Among the Boarding-Houses" in All the Year Round (January 31, 1874):

"It's the unfairest thing out," continued the revolutionary orator, with an indignant snort at the interruption, "the aristos pay no taxes, live on the fat of the land, and won't even touch us if they can help it. ... I'd dearly like to see blood flowing in them swell squares, I would, among them fine flaunting la-di-da ladies, with their mincing ways and trash. Ain't we better nor them?"

And the iconoclast mopped the water from his weak eyes, while his neighbour warbled in an undertone, "The la-di-da ladies to Old Harry are gone, in the ranks of death you'll find 'em."

"You're a fine lot, you are, to settle things," cried out another, who had been pencilling something on the bare table, "where would be my trade, but for the la-di-da ladies, and many another trade too? I'm a painter and decorator, and must earn my bread as well as you."

From the same year, in an advertisement for Theatre Royal, in the [Hobart, Tasmania] Mercury (November 10, 1874):

Characters by BARLOW,

Oh! Nicodemus ... ... ... BARLOW

La di da swell, or One Hundred a year BARLOW


Although "la-di-da" in the sense of "affectedly highfalutin" goes back at least to 1874, that spelling is almost certainly a variation on "lardy-dardy," which goes back to 1859 at least and appears in no fewer than ten publications from the 1860s.

The sources I consulted seem to agree that the term was originally imitative, not unlike the ancient Greeks' imitative attribution of "bar-bar-bar" to barbarians' speech.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.