Namers love language. It’s our stock in trade, and we at Zinzin believe it’s alive and on the move. Language changes, morphs, evolves, and we revel in it. You could even say the connection between namers and language is pure fireworks.
So, in a show of revelry and appreciation, we bring you fireworks! Sort of. Let’s spark some thought around the history and modern-day names of pyrotechnics, aka fireworks, which could be considered a universal language of celebration.
Queue the punk
A punk is a smoldering stick for lighting firework fuses. It’s made of bamboo and a brown coating of compressed sawdust, according to Wikipedia.
In fact, bamboo exploded onto the firework scene long, long ago. Historians trace its use to the very origins of fireworks in ancient China. Those exact origins seem to vary by source. For instance, Wikipedia states that the earliest fireworks came from China during the Song dynasty (960–1279). Whereas, the American Pyrotechnics Association has a slightly different take, as follows:
Many historians believe that fireworks originally were developed in the second century B.C. in ancient Liuyang, China. It is believed that the first natural “firecrackers” were bamboo stalks that when thrown in a fire, would explode with a bang because of the overheating of the hollow air pockets in the bamboo. The Chinese believed these natural “firecrackers” would ward off evil spirits.
Sometime during the period 600-900 AD, legend has it that a Chinese alchemist mixed potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal to produce a black, flaky powder – the first “gunpowder.” This powder was poured into hollowed out bamboo sticks (and later stiff paper tubes) forming the first man made fireworks.
Regardless of their exact origin within China, we know fireworks began as a form of entertainment, celebration, and a tactic in military warfare. Word began to spread across Europe (and eventually to the United States), especially after Chinese advances in chemistry added color to the smoke and fire.
Fast forward to modern day
Based on the original pyrotechnic, the word firework(s) has different definitions and figurative meanings today. Here’s an overview from Merriam-Webster:
- a device for producing a striking display by the combustion of explosive or flammable compositions
- a display of fireworks
- a display of temper or intense conflict
- strong feelings of usually romantic or sexual attraction between two people
- a spectacular display
Names of fireworks*
Did you know each firework, or firework effect, has a name? And just who gets to name fireworks, asks a jealous Zinzin namer?
Another nod to Wikipedia for this list of firework effects (edited by Zinzin for length and clarity).
A cake is a cluster of individual tubes linked by a fuse that fires a series of aerial effects. The variety of effects within individual cakes is often such that they defy descriptive titles and are instead given cryptic names such as “Bermuda Triangle”, “Pyro Glyphics”, “Waco Wakeup”, and “Poisonous Spider,” to name a few.
A shell containing several large stars that travel a short distance before breaking apart into smaller stars, creating a crisscrossing grid-like effect.
A spherical break of colored stars, similar to a peony, but with stars that leave a visible trail of sparks.
Essentially the same as a peony shell, but with fewer and larger stars.
A type of Chrysanthemum or Peony, with a center cluster of non-moving stars, normally of a contrasting color or effect.
Inserts that propel themselves rapidly away from the shell burst, often resembling fish swimming away.
Horsetail (also called a Waterfall Shell)
Named for the shape of its break, this shell features heavy long-burning tailed stars that only travel a short distance from the shell burst before free-falling to the ground.
A Japanese word meaning “boy’s haircut,” which is what this shell resembles when fully exploded in the air.
Mine (also called Pot à feu)
A ground firework that expels stars and/or other garnitures into the sky. Mines can project small reports, serpents, and small shells, as well as just stars.
Multi-break shells (also called a Bouquet Shell)
A large shell containing several smaller shells of various sizes and types. The effect is usually referred to as “Thousands.” Frequently used in Japan.
- Bang: the most common effect in fireworks; sounds like artillery cannon being fired; technically a “report.”
- Crackle: produces a crackling sound
- Hummer: tiny tube fireworks that are ejected into the air spinning with such force that they shred their outer coating. In doing so they whizz and hum.
- Whistle: high pitched often very loud screaming and screeching created by the resonance of gas.
A shell containing a relatively few large comet stars arranged in such a way as to burst with large arms or tendrils, producing a palm tree-like effect.
A spherical break of colored stars that burn without a tail effect. The peony is the most commonly seen shell type.
A shell with stars specially arranged so as to create a ring. Variations include smiley faces, hearts, and clovers.
A Roman candle is a long tube containing several large stars which fire at a regular interval. Some contain small shells (bombettes) rather than stars.
Salute (also called Maroons)
A shell intended to produce a loud report resembling military artillery rather than a visual effect. Salute shells usually contain flash powder.
A shell containing a fast burning tailed or charcoal star that bursts very hard. This appears in the sky as a series of radial lines much like the legs of a spider.
An effect created by large, slow-burning stars within a shell that leave a trail of large glittering sparks behind and make a sizzling noise.
Similar to a chrysanthemum, but with long-burning silver or gold stars that produce a soft, dome-shaped weeping willow-like effect.
Farfalle is an effect in Italian fireworks with spinning silver sprays in the air.
Similar to a Farfalle but has spinning stars.
Acknowledge and celebrate the things you love in life and work! For us, it’s naming and language.
Remember, language is a living, breathing organism that’s always on the move, exploding into this world and sometimes even disappearing into thin air. Don’t fear this change – revel in it. And throw in some fireworks for good measure.**
* A thoroughly representative, but not exhaustive list.
** Celebrate responsibly. Cheers!