This short phrase appears only once in the Bible, in Gen. 1:2: “And the earth was without form, and void….” “to-hu va-vo-hu” could be associated with a group of words named onomatopoeia. These words mimic the sounds in nature with which these words are associated.
Almost every language has some of these words. English for instance has: hiss, sizzle, buzz, bottle, etc. If you take the word bottle and multiply it a few times, you’ll hear: bottlebottlebottle. This sounds like liquid spouting out from a bottle. Likewise, “sizzle” resembles the hissing sound when frying or cooking. “Buzz” sounds exactly as the mechanical or electronic buzzing sounds.
The Hebrew expression “tohu vavohu” sounds very different than most words: it has a special rhyme and it implies a sound of a chaotic movement. The first word also resembles another word from the same verse “te-hom.” This word means “the deep” or “the abyss.” It can also be an onomatopoeia both in Hebrew and English: the verb “hum” in English and “hama” in Hebrew which mean the same – humming!
Imagine a sound that is quickly fading away and vanishing into a huge, deep hole. Now hear in your imagination how the end of this word (te-hom) could be lingered: hommmm. It is actually fading away.
Hebrew has been proven to be a very accurate and authentic tongue, and perhaps “to-hu va-vo-hu” resembles a sound that was similar to the primeval sound roaring over our planet before creation.
Today, “to-hu va-vo-hu” is a flowery and somewhat humorous expression, used to characterize a messy area, such as a house or a room or something very disorganized.