Lexical Investigations: Bomb

People have been dropping the word bomb in many different ways for years, and it’s easy to see why: because it’s such a short and evocative word, it’s perfect for slang. At times bomb has meant a large sum of money, a marijuana cigarette, a nice car, and an old beat up car. Americans traveling in England might be confused, because in the UK, a performance that is a bomb is a tremendous success, whereas a performance in the US that bombed is a failure. Both meanings play off the idea of explosive impact, but one focuses on the positive (it was exciting!) and the other the negative (it was disastrous!). By the 1990s in the US, the British slang had rubbed off on speakers of American English, and for a time anything cool could be called “the bomb.”

Getting “bombed” from having too much to drink has been a phrase in the US since 1959, but that’s not the first time this word was used to describe illicit substance use. Since 1950, doped-up racehorses in Australia were said to be “bombed,” because of their increased speed and strength.

Popular References

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, film,  1964

“Daisy,” a political ad campaign during the 1964 presidential election, Johnson vs. Goldwater. The ad shows a little girl in a meadow, counting off the petals off a daisy. The countdown turns into the countdown of a missile launch, and the meadow is replaced by a mushroom cloud. The controversial ad was only aired once by the Johnson campaign, but is considered a major turning point in the election and in the history of campaign advertising.

“Hum Bomb!” Poem by Allen Ginsberg, 1971

BOMB, quarterly magazine, founded in 1981

“You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” song by The Gap Band, 1982

“Louder than Bombs,” album by The Smiths, 1987

Relevant Citations:

“One artist, who made a smash hit on disks about a year ago, ‘bombed out’ in night clubs because he was unable to perform.”

“Enterprise of Placing R&B Talent Turns Stars in Pop Field Green,” Billboard (April 24, 1954)

“Your magazine is the bomb! I really like the comics and when you make fun of that Spears girl.”

Spin, September 2002

“‘A Doll’s House exploded like a bomb into contemporary life’ – though it was to be over a decade before it took its place in the general European repertoire.”

“Introduction,” Ibsen’s Plays, Michael Meyer, 1985

Read our previous post about the word synergy.
A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.


  1. michael ikechukwu okafor onyeuno -  July 23, 2013 - 11:06 pm

    Gods mercy to hongkong for there dids ,is been taking for granted,i am here to remaind everybody that by fire bu force it shall be taking, so it writing you had good chance for true love and peace.CSL you might not aford to pay for the problems you are creating all over the world just an advise for love.

  2. Joe -  June 30, 2013 - 12:39 am

    Imagine the kind of innocence that was breached in these uses of the word bomb. Because bomb seems derogatory and relieving to normal dialect, allowing a deeper expression without curse words, a new insight is created. Such as “horses being bombed” in Australia could have also perverted some Australians, into a willingness to use drugs for sex. Not only that and since people see what they want to believe, it could have simply motivated some into sexcapades.

  3. Cody -  June 26, 2013 - 5:59 pm

    George: Although we’re probably in different age groups I feel your pain (only I have to deal with Americanised English as I live in the states). The irony is how Noah Webster tried to simplify the language but by changing spelling he did the exact opposite (one would think that he would figure this out if he knew as many languages as he did – 26 in fact). There’s still some words that have not grown on me like tyre instead of tire (but I don’t see these very often) but why this country just HAS to be different in near everything is beyond me….

    J.D.: Read a little more carefully and you might actually see that they covered that.

  4. Joselito Enopia -  June 25, 2013 - 8:51 am

    Bomb..now i know that this is not destructive

  5. takkizbd -  June 24, 2013 - 11:26 pm

    i think everyone like this

  6. Fawad -  June 24, 2013 - 5:56 pm

    Is it just me that sees the positives and negatives as under;

    - That car is ‘Da Bomb’, positive, because bombs are explosives.

    - That car is ‘a bomb’, negative, because it only has one use.

    - It ‘Bombed’ or ‘Bombed Out’ or getting bombed, negative, because it ‘Flattened’ like a Bomb had hit it…

  7. adonis -  June 24, 2013 - 2:49 pm

    Hello…It is the same in many parts of Latin America…If say ¡Está bomba! it means it is stylish…¡Tengo una noticia bomba! it means you have fresh news…

  8. Carter420 -  June 24, 2013 - 10:23 am

    This weed is bomb.

  9. Geoff -  June 23, 2013 - 5:55 am

    Weeel… We’ve got the (A-)bomb (and they haven’t) ….is a good thing.
    Therefore: its the bomb (figuratively)…..good thing.
    It cost a bomb (figuratively)….. surely nobody believes developing the bomb was cheap?
    We bombed or we bombed out….went over pretty flat…a la the result you might expect from using the bomb.
    We were bombed at the time….mentally shattered. (totally drunk or high).
    If a joint was called a bomb its cos you light it like a fuse and it blows your mind.
    Can’t imagine why anyone would have a problem with this word. It all depends on who controls the bomb and if you enjoy it, or not. You know?

  10. Glenn -  June 23, 2013 - 5:30 am

    You have missed a popular culture attribution – “da bomb”, coined by Hawaiian and taken up by Californian surfers in the late 1960s to denote an excellent wave in surfing lingo, as in “that wave was da bomb.” Da bomb continues to equate to cool, excellent amongst surfers.

  11. Glasszhnub -  June 22, 2013 - 6:10 pm

    In the Yucatán Peninsula, some people are used to say “bomba!” as to explain that something is a joke or like a punch line, something like Sheldon’s “bazinga” in the Big Bang Theory.

  12. Nhan of Vietnam -  June 21, 2013 - 4:23 pm

    It’s a bomb. I remember seeing a movie featuring Jacky Chang and a black man. In the scenario, when the latter comments on a sexy girl as ‘a bomb’, the former gets scared and rushes out of the place, then the other pursues him helter-skelter without knowing why. Besides, old people in my country still call the apple “bom”, which I think might cause problems during air-traveling!?

  13. cool girl -  June 21, 2013 - 2:56 pm


  14. J D -  June 21, 2013 - 1:07 pm

    This is not entirely true because in the US, the slang terminology for “bomb” also means something successful or good.

  15. Avengers_assembler13 -  June 21, 2013 - 12:14 pm

    I’ve always only heard it as something being “da bomb”, as in something is superb and amazing. Very cool article!

  16. Arben Agolli -  June 21, 2013 - 11:36 am

    borrowed from German … bomben is a composite taken from Albanian language bomben – bom ben.
    bom = bum (ehet) – bum/ej – bym/ej – is something that swallows, increases dimensions, increased abnormally (or dramatically, or unexpectedly) in size.
    ben – done, made therefor –
    Bomb = bomben – bom ben – bum ben – swollen is done.
    If something good is swallowed, it is good and the opposite if that if that is bad.

  17. ifees -  June 21, 2013 - 5:46 am


  18. Steven Keys -  June 20, 2013 - 9:33 pm

    The use of ‘bomb’ in common lexicon to express great praise or something positive is a recent development and a bad one, at that. Fortunately, it never caught on big, finding slight popularity among children, which is odd, or in entertainment as an indication of corn-ball or immature expression. Given the times in which we live, whomever started this trend made a bad call.

    And the mere use of the word “bomb” in various forms of pop culture (movie titles / music) hardly qualifies as “reference” for the topic.

    Disappointed that Dictionary.com would showcase such poor judgment in their “hot word” section.

  19. kizoil -  June 20, 2013 - 9:55 am


  20. kizoil -  June 20, 2013 - 9:54 am


  21. Crazy mam -  June 20, 2013 - 4:14 am

    This is ” the bomb diggity “. Ya hear what I’m saying? This is just way too fascinating and exciting!

  22. thahera -  June 20, 2013 - 12:46 am

    she is a bomb! It costs a bomb.

  23. George Sheen -  June 19, 2013 - 11:32 pm

    I’m British, but I can’t imagine “a bomb” being a good thing for a performance? Perhaps that’s because I’m young and the American “the bomb” construction has completely overwritten it in the vernacular?

  24. phoenix64 -  June 19, 2013 - 9:04 pm

    this article is da bomb! We still say it, bros!

  25. Alan -  June 19, 2013 - 3:08 pm

    I think it is because it is such an explosive word

  26. Frank M -  June 19, 2013 - 12:21 pm

    In the climbing world we want our anchors to “bomber proof” or “bomb proof” with the concept that if the anchor will survive a “bomb”attach it should hold us on a rappel or belay.

  27. Paul B -  June 19, 2013 - 8:50 am

    The phrase “hoisted by his own petard” is another use of the word bomb since a Petard was a small middle ages bomb used to blow up bridges etc. So the person “hoisted by his own petard” was done in by his something he designed to cause injury to others.

    Shakespeare used it in Hamlet: “For tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his owne petar”.

  28. Rickedy Rick -  June 19, 2013 - 8:07 am

    My favorites are the cute little bob-ombs from super mario games.

  29. oddislag -  June 19, 2013 - 7:08 am

    ^ Yeah like in portuguese, “é uma bomba” means to say that something/someone is good. “uma noticia bomba” holds more or less the same meaning, but I guess, in this case, it can be interpreted as shocking too.

  30. Eric -  June 19, 2013 - 5:56 am

    You missed “balk” for baseball and “bomb” for the culinary arts.

  31. Qkuri mbob -  June 18, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    Bombs are not only destructive they are also /error414
    Dum dum

  32. Ray -  June 18, 2013 - 3:00 pm

    It isn’t a question of ‘good’ v. ‘bad’ but the effect and perception thereof–

    A ‘bombed’ (horse) is one running scared-frantic-fast, ‘He bombed out of the gate…’

    A performance that ‘bombs’–is a blast of noise (sense of worthless-bad);

    A “bomb” of a performance–is an attention-getter (sense of purpose-good);

    (But note also that the British -Londoners- laugh when the ‘bad-guy’ crashes in a huge explosion… I’d suppose ‘shellshock’ laughter…)

    It depends very much on the sentential part and place, tense and focus, (and gender e.g. a bosomy actress said to be a ‘bombshell’…)…

    A ‘bombe’ is a _round_ French desert…

    A military-terrorists’ ‘bomb’ detonates in a generally spherical or isotropical pattern (but the blast, often called a ‘fireball’ for it’s roundness, may be further confined or focused…);

    An ‘ellipton bomb’ was humorously deployed to indicate a confusion of cold-war jargon…

    ►Whereas bombs have little utility in civilian life, the linguistic tendency is toward untended slang of-some-sort and usually local–spreading like a weed…

  33. Noel Robles -  June 18, 2013 - 12:29 pm

    Congratulations dictionary.com! You are the only websites WITHOUT idiots in the comments section! I applaud you guys! Keep up the good work!

  34. PQ -  June 18, 2013 - 12:28 pm

    People confuse bomb with balm because they are pronounced the same.

    “This story is the balm!”

    BALM~something comforting or soothing: soft music is a balm

  35. a -  June 18, 2013 - 12:10 pm

    In some Spanish speaking countries, the literal translation of gas station is gas bomb (bomba de gasolina).

  36. Vanessa -  June 18, 2013 - 11:44 am

    ^Exactly what I was thinking :D

  37. betty b -  June 18, 2013 - 11:31 am

    Interesting! In Italian too the word “bomba”, which translates “bomba”, can be used with other meanings. You can tell someone “sei una bomba” instead of “you`re great / very good at doing something.
    You can say “è una bomba” of a thing too, for example a pc, meaning it’s very good / fast.
    Also, a news item can be said to be “una notizia bomba” when it’s unexpected and incredible.
    References: http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/bomba2/

  38. michelle -  June 18, 2013 - 11:08 am

    good article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  39. 2nd -  June 18, 2013 - 7:36 am

    I know this is dumb, but… Second post!

  40. JRilett -  June 18, 2013 - 5:08 am

    This is the bomb!


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