How strange to call this planet 'Earth' when quite clearly it is ocean. Arthur C. Clarke

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Sound of Doom

In Douglas Adam's book Life, the Universe, and Everything, part of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HGG) series, the sound of one hundred thousand people saying "wop" is a very important and ominous onomatopoeia*:

What happened next they could not ignore. With a noise like a hundred thousand people saying "wop", a steely white spaceship suddenly seemed to create itself out of nothing in the air directly above the cricket pitch and hung there with infinite menace and a slight hum.

Such is the sound of the landing of the warship of a race of people who want to destroy the entire universe. This onomatopoeia is brilliant, because it is a sound we can imagine and conceive of recreating, yet no one has heard it.

I am dying to know how it sounds. 

How much like the word "wop" would it actually sound? Would it be so loud that I would need to cover my ears? Would it startle me? Does it sound like anything I have ever heard before? Can I imagine more than 20 people saying this word? Can I get 20 of my friends to say the word for me simultaneously? Can my ears detect the difference between 100 and 100,000 people saying "wop" at the same time? These questions buzz through my head day after day and keep me up at night.

Fortunately, I am not the only one. Other readers of HGG are also plagued by the same unknowing, and we need your help (and the help of 99,998 others (I already contributed))! The site below is a "wop" project.

With your voice, we will someday hear the sound of 100,000 people saying "wop," and cure our insomnia. All you need to do is use your computer's sound recording software or download Audacity and record yourself casually saying "wop" with a few seconds before and after you say it (no need to shout it). Then email it to, and, as an added bonus, CC me in the email so I can hear your "wop!" That would make me giggle.

Just imagine what a great ringtone it will make!

Here's another "wop" project on a website dedicated to HGG craziness. However, I was unable to upload my "wop" file to this site, so I suggest submitting to the first site I mentioned.

Zaphod stopped stomping. He had been stomping around the Heart of Gold for days, and so far no door had said 'wop' to him. He was fairly certain that no door had said "wop" to him now. It was not the sort of thing doors said. Too concise. Furthermore, there were not enough doors. It sounded as if a hundred thousand people had said "wop," which puzzled him because he was the only person on the ship.

It was dark. Most of the ship's non-essential systems were closed down. It was drifting in a remote area of the Galaxy, deep in the inky blackness of space. So which particular hundred thousand people would turn up at this point and say a totally unexpected "wop?"

He listened but could hear nothing.
All there had been was the "wop."
It seemed an awfully long way to bring an awfully large number of people just to say one word.

There was a sad and terrible pause at this point in the conversation during which a hundred thousand people seemed unexpectedly to say "wop" and a team of white robots descended from the sky like dandelion seeds drifting on the wind in tight military formation. For a sudden violent moment they were all there, in the swamp, wrenching Marvin's false leg off, and then they were gone again in their ship, which said "foop."

"A Rory. It's just a small silver thing set on a large black base. What did you say?"
"I didn't say anything. I was just about to ask what the silver ...'"
"Oh, I thought you said 'wop'. "
"Said what?"

Hear the sound of 11 people saying "wop" (downloads an mp3).

*"Wop" is not intended as a racial slur, and in some American versions of this English book, it is spelled "whop."

1 comment:

aunty greg said...

in the uk we also have the great wop project, google it , it might be of help, i may have repeated myself, but you can blame the campaign for real time for that!