Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bomb - A New Clear Definition

Bomb, Explosive, IED
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.


  1. I'll leave the smarty-pants comments to C - he does them so well! :) (It's ok C - I do enjoy them!)
    I never had to worry about such questions from mine when they were growing up. And I'm real grateful/happy/pleased etc. about that.
    How sad though that it's now a question coming from the mouths of 2-year-olds. It's not something they should hear, let alone talk about.
    I've got grandkids, and as far as I know, it's not a word they are thinking about. Yet.
    I sure hope that lasts for a lot more years.
    No criticism here - nobody should have to tell their kids what a bomb is. No matter where they live in this big world of ours.

    1. C *is* a smarty-pants, isn't he? : o D

      I didn't mind so much that she had heard the word - I just found it such a difficult word to define in a way that she could understand. As Sally suggested, a visual demonstration of buildings being demolished worked wonders the following day.

    2. Ed, *YOU* da bomb.

      (Sorry jingles, that's all I've got - smarty pants in the wash)


  2. "If you're a good girl and go to sleep nicely then tomorrow we'll look at some clips of old buildings no one wants any more being knocked down with bombs on YouTube."

    ...or there's always Tom and Jerry.

    1. It's funny you say that, because YouTube did feature in the following day's demonstration of what a bomb is!

  3. I knew a family in whose house 'bombs' were the names of farts. "Eww..! Who let off a bomb?!" was what I regularly heard. Of course, then there's the OED's definition. Which is also good.

    1. Strewth mate, who shot a fairy?


    2. There are few things unfunnier than someone thinking farting is funny. It's not funny. When will humanity learn?

  4. An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers
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  5. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn't disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought you'd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you weren't too busy looking for attention.
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