A possible, but unlikely cultural Black staple origin story: ‘Aight, so boom’ 

OPINION: While very few probably know the true origins of Black community staples, it’s always fun to provide a possible history.  

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Do you know Black people? Do you speak to the Black people who you know? Are you Black? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions then there is a better than 100% chance that you’ve heard the phrase, “Aight, so boom” or its horizontally challenged cousin, “so boom” at the beginning of a story — any story — about anything. There’s something about the DNA of melanated individuals in African America that requires a flair for the dramatic; think of “Aight, so boom” as punctuation at the beginning of a sentence to let you know that the sentence to follow will be colorful. 

But how did we get here? Why did Black people start saying “Aight, so boom?” And do we use it for stories that aren’t good? (Doubtful.) In my experience, “Aight, so boom” is a statement that lets me know the story that follows is going to be awesome and worth my time, attention and participation. There are no stories that start with “Aight, so boom” that allow you to listen quietly; the ancestors are going to beckon you to punctuate silences with ad-libs that even Jeezy would appreciate. That’s right. 

I asked some Black people I know about their thoughts on how we got to this phrase and no two people had the same answer if they could even offer an answer at all; some of us are way more creative than others. But the more I thought about it, I realized there was a possible origin for the phrase that makes all of the sense: 

Black railroad workers blowing up sides of mountains. Aight, so boom … hear me out. 

Imagine you’re out there working in the mountains of West Virginia blowing holes into the sides of mountains with dynamite (or whatever was used to blow up things back when railroads were being built and run through mountains). All day long, you heard a loud and tremendous boom all throughout the work day. At night, because of racism, the Black folks retreated to their watering holes, and the white folks retreated to theirs, trying to wash away the pain and struggle of what was undoubtedly a back-breaking job.

(For the record, I have no idea if any of this is actually possible; I would like to assume that the Black folks who did work on railroads were there of their own volition and not as a course of penalty.) 

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So they’re at the watering hole regaling one another with stories, some made up and some true. One dude — let’s call him Cleodis — rushes in to tell a whopper of a story about something he just experienced that has him all riled up. Cleodis, a demonstrative chap, known for his stories at the watering hole and up the mountains working during the day, told everybody that he was about to tell the greatest story of all time. Being the showman he was, everybody gathered close. Once he had his audience, he had to figure out what and how to start his story, but he knew everybody in this whole place knew the sound of the “boom.”

In a moment of pure genius that changed the course of Black history, Cleodis threw his hands out and said, “Aight, SO BOOM!” And the whole watering hole was like … WHAT?!? He then launched into his story, which wasn’t the greatest story ever but was worth listening to. But all folks could remember was that he started with “Aight, so boom!” 

Because they were railroadmen, some of those same men got on those railroads to go get jobs in other places, and they took that phrase from Cleodis and used it in other places, always wowing the crowds as they realized that stories seemed more interesting and people seemed more interested when they started their stories that way. That practice continued through today. Just the other day, in order to start my class (I teach a class at Howard University), I started the class with, “Aight, so boom,” and everybody began to pay attention immediately because everybody knew what it meant when somebody uttered the word combination of “so” and “boom.” It’s time to listen. 

“Aight, so boom” is a staple of Black cultural communication, no matter your station, class or location. We all know, appreciate and understand what’s about to happen when we hear that phrase. 

Is that exactly how it happened? Maybe. Probably not. But is it possible? Absolutely. 

Sho’ you right!

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.

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