Q&A: Ba-dum tish?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are joking around listening for rimshots.

Q: Hi AWC, how do you write the sound that comes after a joke?

A: If it’s one of your jokes, it would just be silence.

Q: Oh hardy ha ha. I mean the drum sound that often accompanies a punchline.

A: Ahhh, there’s actually a name for that sound – it’s often called a rimshot.

Q: Oh really?

A: Yep. It’s defined as a drum beat in which “the shaft of the drumstick strikes the rim of the drum at the same time that the tip of the stick strikes the head.”

Q: That doesn’t quite describe what I’m thinking of.

A: If it includes a cymbal clash to follow it, then that entire percussion sound is usually better known as a “sting”.

Q: Like Gordon Sumner? He’s also known as Sting.

A: Ba-dum tish.

Q: Aha! Yes! That’s what I meant – how do you WRITE the sound out?

A: Well, there is no clear front runner, but “ba dum t(i)sh”, “ba-dum ching” and “ba dum tiss” are often used. You may also see “ba-dum chish” or other phonetic variations.

Q: Any others?

A: In British English, often “boom boom” is used as the punchline indicator.

Q: And the whole thing can be called a “rimshot” or a “sting”?

A: Yes. By the way, the term “rimshot” was first used as early as 1934 – apparently invented by an American drummer called Gene Krupa.

Q: Okay, what about “boom-tish”?

A: Sure. It’s all about context. If you’ve set up a joke and follow the punchline with “boom-tish”, then most English speakers will know what you’re describing.

Q: Clearly Daniel Johns thought it was, as he named his new band Boom Tish.

A: Fair enough. As this is a very percussive area, any sound that replicates that cymbal sound, such “tsh” or “tsss” and even “chhhhh” on the end of our ba-dums is fine.

Q: Okay I think you’ve managed to drum it in to me.

A: Boom tish. If you have no preference, we would recommend “boom tish” or “ba-dum tish” as these seem to be the most popular.

Q: Great. Oh, one final thing. How do you write the sound when you get something wrong?

A: Usually it’s “wah wah wah” – according to Urban Dictionary, “the noise of a sad trombone, often with extra Hs or capitalisations to drag out the last and saddest sounding ‘wah’.”

Q: Ah yes, that seems to be a trombone of contention for some people. Geddit? TromBONE of contention.

A: Wah wah wahhhh.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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