What does kerplooie mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: kerplooie.

I enjoy watching movies but I’ve never approached them with the same enthusiasm I have for reading books. That may change, now that I’ve read, Afterglow: A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael by Francis Davis.

Of course, I knew who Pauline Kael was: the influential American film critic who wrote for the New Yorker from 1968 to 1991 (paradoxically, for me, she stopped just before I started reading the magazine weekly.)

But I’d never really understood that her opinions were often at odds with those of many of her contemporaries. For instance, her New Yorker colleague Renata Adler dismissed Kael’s 1980 collection When the Lights Go Down, as “jarringly, piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless.”

In any case, I love Kael’s colloquial writing style and am going to start reading her opus and watch a few of those movies as well. From her last conversation with Francis Davis, her use of the word kerplooie particularly grabbed me. Here is the sentence in which it appeared.

A few movies made inordinate amounts of money, and everything we hoped for from movies went kerplooie.

Of course I know she meant, “went bust.” In more detail, kerplooie means: a failure, meltdown, explosion, splat or splash. But what’s the origin of the word? Sadly, my etymological dictionary gives no details. Near as I can tell, it’s an American word (kablooie is a synonym). The ka- is an intensifier and the rest of the word is thought to be onomatopoeia, providing an imaginative rendition of an explosion or splash.