Photobombs and other bombshells

by Mellissa Martinez

Last week, as I looked through pictures of our summer vacation, I discovered that our family had been the victim of a bombing. It was not a scary or destructive event. In fact, it was rather funny—we had been photobombed. We stood in front of a stunning Florentine church, everyone smiling dutifully. Wedged into a void between my cousin and sister, however, were two strangers.

They don’t appear in just one image, but four. The young men stand arm in arm, smiling at the camera, undeniably posing with us. Somehow, in the moment, we were completely unaware of their presence.

The relatively new expression, ‘photobomb’ describes the practice of dropping in unexpectedly to someone else’s picture. There are a couple of ways to do this: either jump obnoxiously into the front of the image at the last minute, surprising the taker and the poser, or appear silently in the background only to be discovered when the picture is later viewed.

This new expression is just one addition to the long list of compounds associated with ‘bomb.’ Most of the time, these combos refer to unwanted or even destructive surprises. The term F-bomb, for example, explains the abrupt insertion of our most infamous four-letter word into a sentence. Also consider the consequences when ‘bomb’ is paired with atomic, car, fire, H, pipe, smart and suicide.

In the 1500s, the word referred to the sound of mortar shells, not the actual object causing the sound. The modern meaning of ‘explosive device’ came about in the early 1900s after the first air-dropped bombs were employed.

‘Bomb’ comes from the French bombe, Latin bombus and earlier Greek bombos meaning ‘booming sound.’ Other words that derived from the same source are ‘bombard’ and ‘boom.’ The first meaning of ‘boom’ was the eerie yet persistent humming sound of bees and wasps. Later, in the 1400s, it referred to any loud or humming noise and eventually in the late-1800s, ‘boom’ took on the additional meaning of bursting prosperity.  ‘Bombshell,’ also took on the positive meaning of an exceptionally pretty woman in the 1940s, although the expression to drop a bombshell has long described the delivery of unexpected, shocking news.

Throughout time, versions of ‘bomb’ have been used to describe a number of unique objects and practices. It can mean a powerful sound, an explosive weapon, something disastrous, a beat up car, something great, a large sum of money, a marijuana cigarette, graffiti, passing a football, passing gas, failing an exam or getting very, very drunk.

The differences between American English and British English can be quite confusing. In British English, ‘a bomb’ is a wild success, while traditionally in the US when we suggest that something ‘bombed,’ we mean it was a complete failure. ‘Bomb,’ however, has recently seen an upgrade in standing. Urban Dictionary cites the year 1997 as the time of change. Before 1997, ‘bomb’ was defined as ‘something really bad’ and after that year, ‘something really good’ as in ‘the bomb,’ or ‘the best.’

As for photobombing, I think it’s funny. I know that not everyone likes having photos ambushed and, in the past, when we were confined to 24 shots on an expensive roll of film, it would have been rude to ruin a unique snapshot. Nowadays, we have hundreds of images to choose from and in my case, I’m glad that the happy couple snuck into my family picture. It made me laugh and added surprising hilarity the scene.  



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