“Bow Chicka Wow-Wow”

Informant Data: My informant is an International Relations and Global Business major here at the University of Southern California. She is a first generation Filipina and is fluent in Tagalog.  She grew up in Oakland, California before coming down here for her undergraduate degree. She is very bubbly and loves to use proverbial phrases in everyday life.

Item: The folk-phrase: “Bow chicka wow-wow,” usually said in a sing-songy and animated fashion. The following quotations are direct transcriptions of my dialogue with the informant, while the additional information provided is paraphrased.

Contextual Data: My informant first heard this phrase at some point in high school. “I don’t know if it’s a phrase, or more of a sound effect to accompany a situation.” She explains that the phrase “Bow chicka wow-wow” has come to be a well-known imitation of the cheesy music that starts a pornographic scene. “Porn is notorious for bad music, and “bow chicka wow-wow” mimics the sound of the average intro into a scene. People say it comically, never seriously, as if to say “things are getting steamy in here!” or the like. It can be used in a bunch of different circumstances, always as a joke though.” My informant provided me with several examples:

“Say your roommate comes home late from a date and you ask how it went. If she replies “good!” it’s definitely an appropriate time to go “Oh! Bow chicka wow-wow!” implying that they had their own porno together.”

“Or similarly, if your friend asks for a minute alone with someone, asking you to leave, you can say “Oh I see, bow chicka wow-wow!” joking that they need some seriously private time.” My informant details this as a way, as a third-wheel, to make your position less awkward, to make a joke about two people’s intimacy. “The funnier times the phrase is used when it’s completely arbitrary, when there is nothing sexual about the scenario.”

Finally, my informant tells me a joke in which knowing the phrase’s implication is essential. “What happens when you cross a brown chicken and a brown cow? Brown-chicken-brown-cow (pronounced like “Bow chicka wow-wow”)” This puts a spin on the normative structure of the joke, in which the usual punch-line is the product of their crossing; instead, here is it the act of their crossing in and of itself. While the term may be comical, it also illustrates how our society navigates around the taboo of sexuality. In the social environment, one rarely refers directly to sex without the aid of a folk-term or reference, “bow chicka wow-wow” being one of many.

Another version of this folk-speech is employed in Mike Posner’s appropriately titled song, “Bow Chicka Wow Wow” (see citation below). He utilizes his audience’s assumed familiarity with the phrase to provide the unstated context of his lyrics. Lines such as, “Once I throw on this “bow chicka wow wow” what you gonna say? You act like you gone leave but you know you ‘bout to stay,” implying that the folk-phrase represents a pre-coital ambience. While he could be literally “throwing on” some cheesy music, it seems more appropriate that he acknowledges the phrases origin, but is generalizing it to the implied scenario—not to be taken so literally.

Posner, Mike. “Bow Chicka Wow Wow.” Cisse Methods and The Smeezingtons, 2010. MP3.