Friday, September 13, 2013

Comment Dites-Vous Wah Lah?

Today, we wander into the world of wacko etymology as English-speakers (mostly USA) butcher both pronunciation and meaning of non-English words. Wordologist Allan Metcalf considers the English bastardization of Voilà! (French) as "Wah Lah!" How dumb can we be? Pretty freakin' stupid. If this is (fair & balanced) linguistic bastardy, so be it.

[x CHE/Lingua Franca Blog]
This Means Wah!
By Allan Metcalf

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at
The menu at Wah Lah restaurant in Connecticut

Throughout the land, voices are crying in surprise and delight: Wah lah!

(Or sometimes it’s Wa la! Wa-lah!!)

And throughout the land, other voices are raised in protest against that cry.

What’s going on?

Just the usual, the telephone game that gets played when one language picks up a word from another.

In this case, as the protestors disdainfully point out, it’s a nice little expression that we’ve learned from the French. “Voilà!” they exclaim in their sophisticated voices as something splendid suddenly appears. Literally, it means “see” (voir) “there” (), but somehow “voilà” sounds much more elegant than “see there!”

And somehow, “wah lah” does not seem so elegant, as the protestors politely point out.

“Dumbasses who aren’t aware that the term voilà is of French origin and activate the kindergarten sound-it-out method will use this term,” says a definition for “wah lah” posted on

Another contributor to Urbandictionary defines “Wa-lah” as: “ ‘Voilà’ for idiots.” “ ‘Voilà’ is French for ‘Look Here’ but people who are clueless sometimes say or spell it ‘Wa-lah’ because the French do not pronounce the ‘V’ as clearly as English speakers would.”

But take a ride on the information superhighway and what do you find?

Well, for example, there’s a restaurant in Bethel, CT, called Wah Lah. Its Web site tells us that it’s “a new kind of eatery offering gourmet soups, salads, and sandwiches made of quality ingredients that are all made fresh in Wah Lah’s kitchen.” And it’s “Owned and operated by Chef Keith, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.” How’s that for sophistication?

On Pinterest, you can find a blog post with the headline “Wah-lah!!! We are heading to North Carolina this Friday for a whole week to play at the beach.”

Another blog, “the smores. party of four.,” has a post headlined “from blah to wah-lah,” about transforming the playroom.

The Web site has a post asking the question, “What are some of the big wah lah moments in NBA history?”

A kaleidoscopic Flickr photo is captioned “Mix a little rain and sunlight and wah lah!”

You can find “A little water, Lime, and Straw … anddd Wah-lah!” “Bruce Springsteen—from no ticket to wah lah!!!” “So i just got my new Matco tools. wah lah!!!” And with four exclamation points, “The Quilting Diaries: Wah Lah!!!!”

We spell it the way we hear it. We hear Tamra in the Bravo TV show “Tamra’s OC Wedding” saying “I really thought that you could get some dresses, simple invites, and wah lah, you have a wedding.” How she would spell it we don’t know, but it does sound like wah lah.

We’ve done this with French before. We say “chaise lounge” where the French had “chaise longue.” The crayfish, which isn’t a fish at all, comes from Old French crevice. There’s a river and a canyon in Colorado known as Picket Wire, from purgatoire.

Or go to Pinterest and you’ll find a couple of pages of “horse devours,” one featuring grilled brie with raspberries, another pinning mini buffalo chicken balls with blue cheese dressing. And you can find “Horse Devours Recipes” in the “Just for Kids” section of SparkRecipe.

But for deeper thought, ponder this question from the Religion and Spirituality section of Yahoo! Answers: “Why do athiest [sic] always finish all the horse devours at parties?”

Got the answer? Wah lah and woo hoo! Ω

[Allan Metcalf is Professor of English and College Registrar at MacMurray College (IL). Metcalf is the  executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, and author of OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word (2011). Metcalf received a B.A. with high honors in English from Cornell University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.]

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