Word of the Day Boom: When Things Explode

When things explode, Israelis love to make us of this evocative onomatopoeia.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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The LZ 129 Hindenburg air ship explodes above New Jersey.
The LZ 129 Hindenburg air ship explodes above New Jersey.Credit: US Navy via Wikipedia
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

It’s become almost a parody of itself. Whenever someone is interviewed about a rocket attack or bombing, they nearly inevitably say: “Haya boom” (“There was a boom”), or perhaps “Haya boom gadol” (“There was a big boom”).

That’s not to say there’s no Hebrew word for “explosion.” There is the perfectly respectable word “pitzutz,” which in colloquial use can also mean something along the lines of “great,” much like the English word “blast.” But “boom” has become the default word Israelis use, while ostensibly speaking Hebrew, to describe that loud noise signaling the arrival of yet another rocket.

As Haaretz workers filed down to the basement to take shelter from two rockets fired at Tel Aviv earlier this week, the most prominent sound was not the siren but people asking each other “Haya boom?” Some people, whether because of good hearing or quick consults with those closer to the action – I’m still not sure – responded with certainty: “Haya boom.” Their reports were soon confirmed as we watched an Iron Dome missile intercept the rocket on TV, allowing us to head back upstairs.

I guess there’s something about “boom.” Maybe it's that it's easy to say and spell in Hebrew, or maybe it's that it's so widely connected to the sound it attempts to capture. Whatever it is, “boom” has the edge on other, unrelated onomatopoeias, like “woof” or “baa,” which have not caught on here. Israeli dogs say “hav hav,” while Israeli sheep, like unimpressed bloggers, say “meh.”

But if those sheep and dogs could talk, I have little doubt how they would describe what they hear when rockets hit.

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