|Art by Rebecca Lazenby|
Noun. Late 16th century.
[French bombe from Italian bomba probably from Latin bombus from Greek bombos booming, humming, of imitative origin.]
1 obsolete. bomb of fire [translating Spanish bomba de fuego], a fireball (weapon). Only in L16
2 Originally an explosive projectile fired from a mortar. Now, a container filled with high explosive or incendiary material, smoke, poison gas, etc., or a body of high explosive etc., which may be dropped from an aircraft, fired from a gun, thrown, or deposited manually, and is exploded in various ways. L17
3 Historical. In full bomb-ketch, bomb-vessel, etc. A small naval vessel equipped with one or more mortars for throwing bombs. L17
4 More fully, volcanic bomb, lava bomb. A rounded mass of lava thrown out of a volcano. L18
5 An airtight vessel used to conduct scientific experiments under pressure. E20
6 A large sum of money. slang. M20
7 An old road vehicle. Australian & New Zealand slang. M20
8 A marijuana cigarette. slang. M20
9 American Football. A long pass or kick. M20
I consider myself to be a good Dad, an 'enlightened' Dad, one that doesn't shy away from explaining (to an age-appropriate level) traditionally difficult subjects like (lowers voice to a whisper) s-e-x and where babies come from. Hell, I might even be the world's first cool Dad, whose teenage daughter is happy to be seen with him in public and who doesn't get asked to stay in the car when dropping her off at school (OK, fair enough, that's just bordering on the delusional). Despite all of my openness, however, one question completely caught me by surprise, and I suddenly found myself struggling to explain something that I would never have expected to be difficult. When she was about two-and-a-half, as I was putting her to bed, my daughter asked me: "Dad, what's a bomb?"
Now, before anyone that doesn't have children sneers at this, remember that this question has come from a two-year-old. Therefore, words like explosive, detonation and exothermic (y'know, the usual words when discussing bombs) are not yet in the vocabulary, what with Peter & Jane tending to play with balls and dolls rather than gunpowder and IED's. And don't think about fudging over the question either: "Oh, it's just something that goes bang." Children are far too smart and inquisitive for that. Lastly, remember that I'm trying to get her to sleep so that I can go downstairs and watch Downton Abbey; therefore, this is not the time for the brutal truth: "Well, sweetheart, man does to man the most terrible things, and this includes dropping things from the the sky that go bang and kill lots of people. Yes, that's right, darling; even while they sleep. Yes, even little children. Goodnight, honey."
So there it was: despite my determination to be the world's most open and honest Dad, I was struggling to define bomb, an otherwise unremarkable and childishly simple word and brutally familiar human concept. From usually being articulate and expressive, I was suddenly turned into a blithering, backtracking idiot: "Well, it's something that makes lots of fire. No, not like a match - it goes bang. No, not like when Mum's angry and slams the door. It's a ... a ... a thing ... What's it for? Well ... umm ... uh ... let me explain ... umm ... Hey! How about I go downstairs and get us both a biscuit? No, no! Ssh. We won't tell Mum. What do you think?"
I shall reassure myself with the fact that satisfactory definitions are always difficult, even for very familiar words; taking into account a limited vocabulary and a child's understanding only compounds these difficulties further. Hopefully, she'll soon be of the age when I can just wow her with interesting etymologies and related idioms. "Look! This comes from the Greek bombos, which means buzzing. That's very apt, as when I've heard explosives detonate, a microsecond before you hear the boom, the air does seem to buzz in your ears. When did I hear explosives? Well, when I was little, my brothers and I dismantled some fireworks and built a ... umm ... uh ... how about I get us both a biscuit?"
So, smarty-pants, how would you explain what a bomb is to a two-year-old?
Do please leave your most explosive and parent-critical comments below.