Every day, I read the Tirdad Derakhshani’s “SideShow” gossip column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I would call it a “guilty pleasure,” except that I don’t really enjoy it all that much. But anyway.

I have noticed that, probably because of the banality and repetitiveness of his material, Derakhshani makes a (visible) effort to use unorthodox lingo. Sometimes the lingo consists of Britishisms, and that is the case today, when he writes about Britney Spears: “her finances are still under the control of her da, James Parnell Spears.”

If I’m not mistaken, da is actually (unlike mum, which by the way I just heard Tom Magliozzi use on the radio show “Car Talk”–is it a Boston thing?) not a Britishism but an Irish diminutive for “father.” I first became aware of it when reading about and then seeing Hugh Leonard’s excellent play of that name, in a 1978 Broadway production starring Barnard Hughes.

Surprisingly, the OED doesn’t mention this, even though its only two twentieth-century citations are from Irishman: James Joyce (“Waiting outside pubs to bring da home.”–Ulysses) and C. Day-Lewis, writing under his pen name “Nicholas Blake” (“Miss Judith grew up to be..the apple of her da’s eye”).

The New York Times recognized the Irishness of the term just last week, in an article about an Olympic boxing gold medalist: “As the years passed, and as [Katie]Taylor became well known, Ireland grew evermore fond of her: a nice girl without any airs, coached by her Da.”

In any case, it’s clear to me that Derakhshani pretty much all alone in the American use of da, and in fact that inspires me to start a new category: Outliers. I will be retroactively adding stroke, zed and a bunch of other one-offs.

56 thoughts on ““Da”

  1. Definitely not a Britishism, I’ve never heard it before. The normal British words are “Mum” and “Dad” (not “Mom” and “Pop”). Younger children (but curiously also “upper class” children of all ages) more commonly use “Mummy” and “Daddy”.

  2. “Mum” is a Boston thing, yes. You also hear “mum-mah” (usually used with and by small children) and “ma”. As a kid when I bought Mother’s Day cards I would cross out the “Mom” when I encountered it and write “Mum”.

  3. In Britain, ‘da’ is definitely regarded as an Irish-ism. Trying to say it without a soft Irish accent, and we’re in “la de da”, and “Dada”, territory.

  4. Go it Boston! Yep, da isn’t British, some Irish friends use it. In south Wales it is mam and dad, the Welsh mam being the formidable matriarch! The Welsh for mother and father is mam and tad, which suggests an origin. Pop did getfor my Grandad, so it may be a generational thing rather than a AmE v BrE thing.

    1. That’s if you don’t accept Northern Ireland as part of Britain!! My wife is both Northern Irish AND British, and she says DA.

    2. Incidentally, “mam/Mam” (rather than “mum/Mum”) is not just restricted to Wales; it’s also commonly found in the north of England (cf. the BBC series “The Royle Family” or “Jonny Briggs”) and even the Midlands. For example, my mother and her siblings are from around Atherstone in northern Warwickshire – an area that shares a number of dialect traits with counties further north such as Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire – and they all refer to their mother as “Mam” or “me [my] mam” from time to time.

      For me, it’s always “mum/Mum”, though, despite growing up just down the road in Nuneaton – and 20 or 30 miles to the west (in Birmingham and the Black Country), it’s “mom/Mom”, as hadda has pointed out.

  5. As English-born American, Leslie Townes “Bob” Hope, used to sing, “Thanks for the memories.” I remember “Da”. It was playing on Broadway while I was at school in NYC for ten weeks during the summer of ’78. I saw a lot of plays that summer, and lost any inkling of fear I may have had previously of visiting “The City”.

  6. “Da” is used in the novel “God Bless the Dead” wherein the Irish heroine talks about her father “The Uncrowned King of Ireland.” Great read.

  7. In the recent novel God Bless the Dead, the Irish heroine refers to her Da, “the uncrowned King of Ireland”. New category: Not one off Irishisms?

  8. Sorry about all the mentions of “God Bless the Dead.” The posters were not being dense–I just approved all of them and didn’t think it would be fair to leave anyone out.

    1. Thanks for including. I’m 1/4 Irish, and with wide-ranging interests, I don’t appreciate being left out.

  9. In my own Irish-American family, we sometimes used “Da.” Only we pronounced it like “Dad” without the final d, not “Dah” as in la-di-da.

  10. I claim some authority in being Hugh Leonard’s daughter. Da meaning Dad is unknown in Britain and probably not that much used in Ireland by children these days. In Ireland it would have been working class vernacular. Pronounced, as noted above, like Dad without the final d but with an elongation of the vowel and a soft h at the end. Enjoyed the posts though.

    1. My family has been in America for many generations and no one besides me and my younger brother calls their father Da. I asked my parents why and they have no clue. The only thing I can think of is the fact that we lived in an area from the time I was born where our closest neighbors came straight from Ireland. Either that or I was just too lazy to progress from my first word as a baby (Da) and taught my brother to follow suit.

  11. The long history of Irish immigration through the port of Liverpool contributed to the unique Liverpudlian accent. It also helps to explain why “Da” was used there as a contraction of “father” and almost nowhere else in England.

  12. Yes but, in Ireland, ‘da’ is a very informal term for your father.. It would never be used in a newspaper story unless quoting someone.

  13. They also use Da in the north-east of England, in and around Geordieland. “Awa’ in hinny or I’ll be tellin yer da.”

  14. Hi, I’m English and ‘Da’ is generally used by the Irish and Scousers (People from the City of Liverpool) as an abbreviation of Dad. It is not commonly used in other parts of the UK where Mum & Dad are more common. However, ‘Ma’ is used fairly frequently in alot of counties as as an abbreviation of Mum or Mother.

  15. Da is an irishism, more specifically its mostly used by people from Dublin. They’d be more likely to say something like “Me ma and me da” to mean “My mother and my father”, the use of Da probably spread to Liverpool and Glasgow through emigration of Dubliners to those areas, the same with Boston.

    The part of Ireland that I’m from (Waterford), we’d be more likely to say “Me Mam and Dad” to say “My mother and father”. It really really wrecks my head when I go to a shop to buy a birthday card for my mother and they all have “Happy birthday Mum” on them when they should have “Happy birthday Mam!”. Incidentally Welsh people are more likely to say Mam than Mum or Ma.

  16. Da is Irish, not British. British is Mum and Dad, Mummy and Daddy (if you live in Chelsea) or mater and pater if one goes to public school

  17. I don’t think Mummy and Daddy is just Chelsea, it’s also age – I called my parents that until I was a teenager, I think. Now my siblings and I call them Mum and Dad – but my 7 year old son calls me Mummy.

  18. @ Ray – yes, I agree with you. I think it’s changed over time, though – my parents (born right at the end of the 1940s) called their mothers “Mummy” all mothers’ lives, and they definitely weren’t upper class.

  19. I suspected it was British. I first came across the word “da” for “dad” in Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole novels, specifically early in The Capture, which is the first in the series. Took me a while to imagine how one would say it.

  20. As an American child, I learned the term “Da” from the Welsh-set novels of Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander. But I’ve never actually heard anyone say it out loud — not even in Boston.

  21. “Da” is an irish-ism as far as I know…. but remember N.Ireland is part of Britain! I’ve heard my Glaswegian Mum use it now and then and also, we called my granfather on that side Granda. So it can be counted as a Britishism in my opinion!

    1. Northern Ireland isn’t part of Britain. It’s part of the UK, i.e. “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”

  22. I’m a Canadian of Irish ancestry. My mother was always “mum” (never the Irish “mam,” interestingly enough), but my father was sometimes “dad,” and sometimes “da,” depending on context. “Da” was for when you were being self-consciously Irish, or for when you were being a little bit more than usually affectionate. “Dad” was the norm in Canada, but “Da” was what you really would call him in private, if you were being all sentimental and such, if you were a Canadian of Irish ancestry.

  23. Does no one remember the book by Roddy Doyle: “Paddy Clarke ha ha ha” (1993)? It’s situated in Dublin, 1968:
    “Paddy Clarke
    Paddy Clarke
    Has no da
    Ha ha ha!”

  24. I’m from north east England and we traditionally say Mam and Dad. In some of the urban areas of Northumbria where there was a lot of 19th century immigration from Ireland you still occasionally hear Da.

  25. We have such an amazing man that walked into mine and my girls life. He has taught my girls so many incredible life skills…. And now our son. At the age of 9 months he began calling his father Da. The girls have a wonderful Daddy so Da seemed fitting. Ulysses is at the top of my family tree and my father side wouldn’t be more Irish along with my grandfather from Belfast. I just decided to see where it originated from and wow just wow. Our almost 3 yr old still calls him Da!

  26. What a twat ! It is is Celt, Scottish/Irish term relating to ones’ father ! Ma Da’s the best Da in the world’ ( My Dad’s the best Dad in the world ) Simple local/colloquial chat’… Sorry about that ; ) …Alex

  27. Scottish refer to their parents as ma and da. I never did, mine were always mum and dad but people where I’m from often said ma and da.

  28. I just came across this because I was trying to find out the orgin of Da. I call my dad Da and never heard anyone else do this.

  29. My siblings, cousins, and myself all called my grandfather Da. I always assumed it was a family name for grandfather passed down. We call our grandmother meme, short for memere (we have french canadian in our recent ancestry). My grandfather wasn’t french. I took the two different naming styles as a product of our mixed community and family. Maybe I’m incorrect in thinking it was a term for grandfather but it’s what my family used.

  30. Interesting to see so many people continuing to say that “da” isn’t British, when it’s been correctly pointed out upthread that it’s widely used in the North-East of England.

    1. Where are you from if you don’t mind me asking? (If you’ll even see this two years later…)

      I called my grandpa who raised me Da and my grandma Ma, and I was the only kid in Texas with a Ma and Da. I always thought it was just a weird me thing until I watched Angela’s Ashes as a young adult and they used the term for their dad. Both my Ma and Da were from Appalachia, though, and I wonder if that had some influence on my picking up the terms as a baby. That’s how I even found this, searching for usages of the terms. Never came across anyone else with a “Da” grandpa before.

      1. Hello, Eryn,

        Our first grandchild who is now 12 called my wife and I “Ma and Da” in response to our suggestion of Grandmom and Granddad when he was first learning to talk. We loved it and decided to keep it. Our whole family now refers to us Ma and Da. We live in Maryland with our now five grandchildren and our three children and their spouses. Life is good!

        A Maryland Da 🤗

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