[tlhIngan Hol] {bom} and {ghuQ}: a Klingon perspective

Rhona Fenwick qeslagh at hotmail.com
Sun Mar 5 02:59:31 PST 2017

Hoch, peqIm!

I recently emailed Marc Okrand with a question for Maltz about whether Klingons consider there to be a relationship between ghuQmey (poems) and bommey (songs, chants), and in particular, whether ghuQ implied anything in particular about the text it describes.

As always, Maltz (and Marc) went above and beyond in addressing my question, so I'd like to share with you this more detailed discussion of the meanings of both bom and ghuQ.


Rhona —

It turns out that Maltz is neither the most literary of Klingons nor is he the most musical (though he does enjoy a good opera now and then), so his knowledge of things poetic and musical may not be the best.

That said…

With bom, there's always musicality.  The music may be provided by voice alone or by voice plus a musical instrument (or other thing acting in that role).  (Maltz wasn't sure of the word for instrumental music not associated with lyrics or singing, probably because this is less common than vocal music, accompanied or not.  He'll get back to me, he says.)

A bom could be melodious in the sense we normally think of it, singing perhaps accompanied by one or more musical instruments.  Or it could be just rhythmic, perhaps accompanied by a drum of some sort.  So, yes, a rap song is a bom.  Rhythm (as defined by Klingons as only they can) is essential.  A cheer at a sporting event or political rally is a bom (not just "Go!" or "Run!" or "Hooray!" but things like "Here we go, big team, here we go!" repeated rhythmically… and endlessly).

[poD vay' ram - QeS]

(At the women's march in Washington in January, I kept hearing the repetition of one person rhythmically chanting "Show me what democracy looks like!" and everyone answering "This is what democracy looks like!" That's a bom.)

A bom's lyrics (bom mu'mey) need not rhyme, though they can and often do.  (The libretto to the opera 'u' has very little if any rhyming.)

A ghuQ, on the other hand, may be rhythmic or not, and it may rhyme or not.  The focus is on the words.  It's more complex, of course, because a good poem uses words that are chosen for their affect when they come together.  That's "rhythm" of a sort, I suppose, but not the kind of rhythm you can tap your foot to.  A ghuQ is typically recited with no musical accompaniment.  If there is music, the music doesn't necessarily (or even usually) match the ghuQ — it may complement it, but it's not the musical version of the ghuQ.

Sometimes someone will write music for which an already-existing ghuQ is the words.  Then a ghuQ has become a bom.  Or, more accurately, there is a bom version or adaptation of the ghuQ.

If someone recites the words of a bom but does not sing it (someone like Shatner, maybe?), that's a recitation of the bom mu'mey; it's not a ghuQ.

Generally speaking, a bom is something you sing and/or hear, but other than for scholarly reasons (or when you're learning the words), you're not likely to read a printed version of its lyrics (or music, for that matter).  A ghuQ may be spoken aloud (and therefore heard), but one might also just read one.

There is an ongoing conversation in Klingon literary circles (there's a concept for you!) about whether there is a difference between bom mu' and ghuQ — that is, the words alone.  Did Bob Dylan win the Nobel Prize in Literature for his bom mu'mey or his ghuQmey?


(I had reasons for asking, and there is a little more to Marc's response that addresses a specific context, but I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say more for now. But I'll absolutely share the rest - which I assure you all is fairly minor elaboration and includes no new words - when I know it's okay to do so freely.)

QeS 'utlh
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