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The Vine: February 7, 2014

Submitted by on February 7, 2014 – 8:59 AM17 Comments


I'm hoping someone out there has heard the expression "Boom Chicago" and can verify that a) I didn't dream it and b) it means what I think it means.?

I'm pretty sure the father of a high-school friend used to say this, the meaning being "suddenly" — as in "The contractor is so fast — I had barely mentioned wanting a new deck, and Boom Chicago, he had it complete!" (Except not — because contractor/deck/fast — unlikely.) I also use it sometimes to mean "that's done" or "all finished."

??The problem is my friend has no recollection of her dad saying anything of the kind, and no one I've asked has ever heard the expression. All Google yields is a frustratingly tantalizing improv group based in Amsterdam called Boom Chicago — evidence that the comedians in it (and they have some very notable alumni), at least, must know this phrase…but its popularity is skewing my Google-fu, and nothing else appears to come up.

So, anyone out there using this phrase when they drop the left and right bower together in a euchre game? Or crowing about getting the dishes done right quick? ??



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  • Kelly says:

    So I'm pretty sure the phrase origin comes from the building boom after the fire that burned most of Chicago in the 1880s. As in, one day there was no city, and the next day, boom! Chicago. (There was also a land-buying boom in the 1830s when Chicago was incorporated, so the city sprung up quickly twice in the 19th century.) All that said, I cannot find you a specific explanation of the phrase origin, so this is kind of conjecture. I'd suggest using the advance search tools to subtract any mention of Amsterdam, comedy, improv, etc. from your search and go from there. Mine wasn't super successful but maybe your Googlefu can find you a better combo than what I was working with.

  • Kelly says:

    (OMG I said the Chicago Fire was in the 1880s and it was not at all – it was in 1871. Feel free to burn me.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I was pretty sure we used to say this in college…and then I realized I was thinking of Zoom Schwartz. smh

  • Kelly says:

    Well now I'll move on to researching Zoom Schwartz…. Or not.

    I've seen it a couple places as being more of a descriptor of Chicago in that post-fire era, like a short way of saying boom-era Chicago. Still the same idea, but less awkward than the turn of phrase I was implying. It's more like saying, "One day there was nothing, and then just like in the Boom Chicago time, it all was there" getting shortened to "One day there was nothing, then Boom Chicago, it was all there." It was a place where things happened fast. Which kind of makes it make sense for the name of the improv group too, I guess?

    I swear I'm going to stop this and do my job now.

  • Maria says:

    I grew up near Chicago and have never once heard the expression.

  • Maria says:

    (Different Maria)

    I have nothing to add except now I kind of want to play Zoom Schwartz Profigliano. Because mid-life crisis, so why not…?

    P.S. No Dice.

  • Jo says:

    Spent my entire life in the Pacific Northwest with one parent from Southern Indiana (but right across the river from Louisville) and one parent from L.A., and I've never heard this.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:


  • Jane says:

    Not finding anything like this in Google Books history up through 1925, though I did find some interesting uses of "boom" as in "to brag up."

    I think (as another long-term Chicago area dweller) this was either a personal phrase or an individual/personal malapropism.

  • Angharad says:

    The actual page is unfortunately behind a paywall, but this 1943 newspaper page seems to reference both the term and it's half-forgotten lingo status. It looks like it might be a remnant of railroads or railroad construction, but that might be another story entirely, the text isn't super-clear:

  • Diane says:

    I've never heard it, but from now on, I'm going to say it ALL THE TIME.

  • T says:

    Oh man, I might be way off the mark since I don't know your age, but perhaps he was saying "boomshakalaka"? It's a phrase my sisters and I used growing up in the early/mid 90s, which makes sense because apparently it originated or became popular from what the announcer yelled when someone made a slam dunk in the video game "NBA JAM" that came out in 1993. Then it was adopted in sports in general, then became general slang.

    If someone's dad was saying this, I find it highly likely from this origin. Maybe either he OR you turned it into "Boom Chicago"? Many of its uses (check Urban Dictionary, for example, which is how my sisters and I used it – "So there! I rock! Slam dunk!") work entirely for how you've appropriated it. "I finished all my chores, boomshakalaka!"

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Ooh, good find, @Angharad. Maybe it has to do with getting on an overnight train heading west and when you wake up, boom! Chicago. …?

  • Lizard says:

    @Angharad, thanks. That's a really neat find for someone like me who loves Chicago history, lived there for 15 years, and yet had never heard the expression.

  • Caitlin M says:

    I've never heard "Boom Chicago," but in this context, it's kind of charming, and reminds me of the British "and Bob's your uncle!" (which similarly implies et voila!).

  • mspaul says:

    Ditto Diane. I've lived in Chicago all my life and have never heard this, but I'm damn skippy going to start using it, especially when I drop the right and left bower in euchre!

  • Niki says:

    Yeah, my mind went to "boom shaka laka" (Shaka laka laka boom) as well. The "boom" gets extra emphasis, so I can imagine the rest of the phrase being mumbled.

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