Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah

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The nyah-nyah tune features a descending minor third. About this soundPlay 

"Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah" is the lexigraphic representation of a common children's chant. It is a rendering of one common vocalization for a six-note musical figure[note 1] which is associated with children, is found in many European-derived cultures and is often used in taunting.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

"Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah" is seen particularly in the eastern United States and modern Britain.[citation needed] There are many other vocalizations for the tune, as well as other ways of rendering the nyah-nyah version (such as "Nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh").[7]

While the word "nyah" is now defined as being in and of itself an expression of contemptuous superiority over another, this is by derivation from the "nyah-nyah..." chant rather than vice versa[8] so the "nyah-nyah..." vocalization version of the chant is, at least in origin, an example of communication entirely by paralanguage.[7] Context-meaningful words are sometimes applied ad hoc, though, such as "Johnny is a sis-sy" or "I can see your underwear!"[4] Shirley Jackson referred to it as the "da da, da-da da" or "I know a secret" chant in Life Among the Savages.[9]

Non-taunting uses are also seen, also associated with children. One tune for Ring a Ring o' Roses (which is sung to many variant tunes) uses the "Nyah nyah..." musical figure;[6] a common tune for Bye, baby Bunting uses a similar figure,[2][5][6] and one for Olly olly in free does also.[1]

Benjamin Britten used the figure in his 1946 opera The Rape of Lucretia for a scene where the Roman and Etruscan generals mock each other.[2]


  1. ^ a b Leonard Bernstein (1983). "Musical Phonology", lecture 1 of The Unanswered Question lecture series (Lecture). Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Event occurs at 27:00. Retrieved August 29, 2016. Research seems to indicate that this exact constellation of two notes [descending minor third], and its three-note variant, is the same all over the world, wherever children tease each other, on every continent and in every culture. In short, we may have here a clear case of a musical-linguistic universal., cited at Patrick Metzger (August 29, 2016). "The Millennial Whoop: The Simple Melodic Sequence That's Showing Up All Over Contemporary Pop". Browbeat (Slate's Culture Blog). Slate. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Albright, Daniel (1999). Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts. University Of Chicago Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0226012544. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  3. ^ Tsur, Reuven (1992). What Makes Sound Patterns Expressive?: The Poetic Mode of Speech Perception. Sound & Meaning: The Roman Jakobson Series in Linguistics and Poetics. Duke University Press. p. 48. ISBN 0822311704. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "A Feeling for Harmony: The 3-Semester Music Theory Course for Earlham College – Chapter 1E - Pentatonic Scale". Earlham College. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  5. ^ a b John Wells (July 18, 2011). "Nuh-nuh (2)". John Wells’s Phonetic Blog. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c John Wells (July 25, 2011). "Nuh-nuh (3)". John Wells’s Phonetic Blog. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  7. ^ a b John Wells (July 15, 2011). "Nuh-nuh". John Wells’s Phonetic Blog. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  8. ^ "Definition of nyah in English". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  9. ^ Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1963.


  1. ^ Sometimes five-note, with the first two notes combined as one long note ("Nyaaahh nyah nyah nyah nyah") or other variations, such as the third note shortened or the fifth note stressed in volume, intonation, or duration, and so forth.

Further reading[edit]

  • Liberman, Mark Yoffe (1978). The Intonational System of English (Dissertation). Indiana University Linguistics Club. OCLC 910372009.