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!