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.
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
“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