On the pop culture Richter scale, this went all the way up to 11.
As you probably know by now, the April 26 event known as Boobquake drew more than 200,000 Facebook supporters and a boatload of mainstream media coverage while spawning videos, T-shirts, songs, and comic strips. Better than that, Boobquake achieved a rare marriage of humor plus smart commentary on religion, science, and feminism. Boobquake Day has the potential to be a new science-celebrating, woman-centric, hooey-dispelling holiday, while “Boobquake” itself is an early favorite for 2010 Word of the Year—I predict the American Dialect Society votes it Most Creative or Most Outrageous at worst. I also suspect that one tweeter’s question—“How long before ‘Boobquake’ is added to the dictionary?”—will be answered “Not long at all.”
It all started when Jennifer McCreight—a 22-year-old Purdue senior, genetics student, and blogger—spied a particularly vile bit of anti-women venom spouted by Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who said scantily clad women were leading “young men astray,” which in turn caused earthquakes. This innovative seismological theory was blasted by many bloggers, but McCreight came up with the most creative response, imploring women to “embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts” by wearing their most cleavage-y (or otherwise revealing) outfit on April 26 as a scientific test of Sedighi’s “theory.” In other words, as McCreight so perfectly put it: “Time for a Boobquake.”
Linguistically, “Boobquake” brings to mind the many other words inspired by “earthquake”—a word used since at least the 1300s—such as the self-explanatory “Marsquake,” “Moonquake,” and “water-quake.” From the 1500s to the 1800s, the OED records “heart-quake” as a word for overactivity of the ticker, whether from medical or emotional upheaval. Boobquake itself could be considered a “genderquake” (to use a Naomi Wolff-propelled term) and has much in common with “mirthquake” (a silly word for any kind of comedic entertainment). “Mirthquake” or “mirthquaker” have been used (rarely) to mean a joke, presumably a good one. Using this sense, I would say Boobquake is an excellent mirthquake—one that also launched “Brainquake,” a parallel protest.
The first half of “boobquake” (which is a blend, like “snowverload” and “labradoodle”) also has a long history. The Historical Dictionary of Slang traces it back to 1929 and this use: “Studs didn’t usually pay attention to how girls looked, except...to notice their boobs, if they were big enough to bounce.” The OED speculates that “boob” is a shortening of “booby,” a variation of “bubby” going back to at least 1686: “The Ladies here may without Scandal shew Face or white Bubbies, to each ogling Beau.” At times, “boob” has also meant a jail, an idiot, and a mistake, so if you know all four meanings, you could say, “A boob went to boob for making a boob-related boob.”
On the Boobquake Facebook page , McCreight clarified her intentions in coining the greatest boob-word since “quadriboobage”: “The cleavage joke was just a result of me personally having cleavage, and that being my choice of immodesty. And I thought ‘boobquake’ just sounded funny. Really, it's not supposed to be serious activism that is going to revolutionize women's rights, but just a bit of fun juvenile humor. I'm a firm believer that when someone says something so stupid and hateful, serious discourse isn't going to accomplish anything—sometimes light-hearted mockery is worthwhile.” Amen to that.
Though some took an earthquake in Taiwan as proof that the Boobquakers (as they are called) really did commit murder, April 26’s earthquake activity wasn’t anything unusual, as McCreight herself discusses post-experiment. As always, her scientific bent was leavened by humor: “Obviously this study had its flaws. We didn't have a large sample size, and we didn't have a control planet where women were only wearing burkas. We didn't have a good way to quantify how much we increased immodesty (what's the unit of immodesty anyway? Intensity of red on blushing nuns?).” Clearly, more research is needed.
And more Boobquakes too. I reckon Boobquake stands a chance of joining Festivus as one of our most enjoyable recently invented holidays. Many are already referring to April 26 as “Boobquake Day,” plus, as CNN news blog editor Mallory Simon pointed out, April 26 is also the birthday of Charles “Richter scale” Richter.
That makes April 26 an ultra-appropriate day to celebrate science, humor, brains, language, and—of course—boobs.