The ‘Boom!’ Boom

I’ve been seeing this commercial a fair amount:

The thing that strikes me is how Neil Patrick Harris says, “They said it was impossible to have a great-tasting light beer. Boom!”

The onomatopoeic word boom has done an awful lot of service over the years: for example, the nickname of Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, David Rabe’s play In the Boom Boom Room, and the 1968 Liz Taylor-Richard Burton film Boom! In music, there’s Eddie Cantor’s 1929 novelty number “I Faw Down an’ Go Boom” and Randy Newman’s lyric in “Political Science”: “Boom goes London, and boom Paris / More room for you and more room for me.” Then there’s the term baby boom, which actually started to be used in the early 1940s, before what we now consider to be the start of the baby boom.

The Heineken ad is an example of a recently popular use, to punctuate a supposedly funny, cutting, or irrefutable thing one has just said. You see this all over, including on Twitter, where @KristieDecimal has applied it to the former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes’s tweet:

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Where does this boom come from? One key thread concerns the phrase “boom shakalaka” (spellings of the second word vary). As the website Fuse explained in 2011, in a post about Snoop Dogg’s song “Boom,” it’s complicated:

The popular etymology traces “boom shaka lacka” back to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 funk-rock landmark “I Want to Take You Higher” — a song that’s as much an everybody-party-now number as “Boom.” But what the group was singing there was actually “boom lacka lacka lacka.”… The “shacka” appears to have turned up a little bit later than the Family Stone: in 1970, the year before Snoop Dogg was born, Hopeton Lewis had a Jamaican hit with “Boom Shacka Lacka.”

The next big year was 1993, which saw the release of Apache Indian’s song “Boom Shack-a-Lak” and, more important, the video game “NBA Jam.” In it, the announcer shouts “Boom shakalaka!” whenever an especially bodacious dunk is accomplished; subsequently it became a thing to say not only after a posterizing dunk but, in Fuse’s words, whenever “somebody just did something awesome.”

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs. The Apple chief developed the habit of saying “Boom” when he projected a image or feature during his public presentations of this new product or that. He didn’t shout it in an in-your-face way but said it matter-of-factly, sort of the equivalent of an Apple device’s click or tap. Don’t take my word for it: Take a look at this video, compiled by someone with clearly too much time on his hands, of all 314 times Jobs said “Boom” from 1992 to 2010:

The figure who brought it all together, I’d hazard, was Jon Stewart, who loved to boom! after insulting Bill O’Reilly or some other Fox News figure, often accompanied by outstretched middle fingers. Stewart deployed a Steve Jobs-level number of booms when he impersonated Donald Trump on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert this past January, starting around the 2:20 mark of this clip, when he says, “Super-long tie, dead animal on head. Boom.”

The question remains, why do people feel the need to put a boom after their pronouncements? We seem to live in a self-conscious, edgy age, when it’s felt that wit needs to be nudged: for example, by writing “FTW” (the Hollywood Squares-originated text equivalent of boom) to claim that you’ve vanquished an opponent, or “See what I did there?” after a pun or joke. Or by appending a mic-drop GIF to a a tweet or post.

Such displays haven’t always been considered necessary. The only traditional equivalent I can think of is “QED,” and that was reserved for logical proofs, not insults or bons mots, which had to stand on their own. After all, when Oscar Wilde said of a clever remark, “I wish I had said that,” James McNeill Whistler didn’t respond, “You will, Oscar, you will. BOOM!”

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