Onomatopoeia (on-uh-mat-uh-pee-uh) refers to words that resemble or sound like the sounds they describe or, in other words, the naming of an action by a phonetic representation or imitation of the sound associated with it. Think of words such as crash, tick-tock, hiss, waa-waa, hoo-hoo, and whoosh.
Writers use onomatopoeia to stimulate the reader’s auditory sense and create rich soundscapes in writing. When you read the word splat, doesn’t it automatically invoke a mental image of something wet having hit a surface? Or, when you read the word achoo, can’t you almost hear the sneeze? Such is the power of onomatopoeia! Writers of comics especially use onomatopoeia to show sound effects.
Onomatopoeic words can be real words, made-up words, or letters representing raw sounds. For example, the letters zzzzzz mean someone is sleeping or snoring.
Onomatopoeic words can differ across cultures and languages. For example, woof is typically used to denote a dog’s bark in English. But, the onomatopoeic words for a dog’s bark changes in various languages. Check out how ‘woof’ is represented in other languages:
English: woof, woof; ruff, ruff; arf, arf; bow wow; yap, yap; yip, yip (for small dogs)
German: wuff, wuff; wau, wau
Spanish: guau-guau; gua, gua; jau, jau
Korean: meong, meong
Hindi: bow, bow
What is the big deal about onomatopoeia? Or... Why should I use onomatopoeia?
The use of onomatopoeia makes one’s written and spoken language more expressive, impactful, and memorable. Check out the following examples to see the impact of onomatopoeia and to learn a variety of onomatopoeic words.
Onomatopoeic words related to the sound of water
Meaning: Flowing in drops; rhythmic striking of a ball against a hard surface
Example: I could hear the dribble of the basketball from court 1; Poonam was obviously practicing early.
Meaning: The sound of a liquid falling drop by drop
Example: All I could hear was the drip of the rain from the roof.
Meaning: Very light rain
Example: The drizzle of the rain gave a dreamy and ethereal feeling to the resort.
Meaning: The sound of made by something falling into or striking water
Example: Ramesh fell into the pond with a mighty splash!
Meaning: A dispenser that turns a liquid (such as perfume) into a fine mist
Example: You can almost hear the spray from the waterfall!
Onomatopoeic words that indicate vocal utterances
Meaning: A sound made especially to attract attention or to express disapproval or embarrassment.
Example: Professor Geetha: “Shall I, ahem, leave you and the blackboard alone for a moment?”
Meaning: A reflex that expels wind noisily from the stomach through the mouth.
Example: Anuj must have eaten a sumptuous lunch; his belching sounds very contented!
Meaning: The short low gruff noise of the kind made by hogs
Example: He gave a non-committal grunt in reply.
Meaning: An utterance expressing pain or disapproval
Example: Richard's jokes make you groan rather than laugh.
Meaning: Utter a high-pitched cry
Example: The children squealed with delight when the pizza arrived.
Onomatopoeic words that indicate sounds made by objects
Meaning: A vigorous blow
Example: Residents heard an enormous bang as a safety valve on the boiler failed.
Meaning: A loud resonant, repeated noise
Example: Cowbells clanged across the endless green fields.
Meaning: A rattling noise (often produced by rapid movement)
Example: The pans in the kitchen clattered as they crashed to the floor.
Meaning: A ringing sound
Example: The trolley came by, dinging noisily.
Meaning: Press or grind with a crunching noise
Example: She heard the crunch of tires on the gravel driveway right before the accident.
Onomatopoeic words related to the sounds made by air
Meaning: A vigorous blow
Example: With a swish of the curtains, the stage was revealed.
Meaning: Move along very quickly
Example: The bullet whizzed by, missing the fugitive by barely an inch.
Meaning: Move with or cause to move with a whistling or hissing sound
Example: A bullet swooshed over my head.
Meaning: A quick blow delivered with a whip or whiplike object and the sound made during such an action
Example: The whip whistled as it moved to strike the horse.
Meaning: The noise produced by the sudden rush of a fluid (a gas or liquid)
Example: The train sped through the station with a whoosh.
Onomatopoeic words that indicate animal sounds
Meaning: Braying that is characteristic of donkeys; laughing loudly or harshly
Example: While the Americans write the donkeys' braying sound as ‘hee-haw’, the British use ‘eeyore’.
Meaning: A soft, partly-suppressed laugh
Example: As the teacher listened to the little boy's excuse for forgetting homework, he started to chortle in amusement.
Meaning: Sing by changing register; sing by yodeling
Example: Was that you I heard warbling in the bathroom this morning? You sing well!
Meaning: The short weak cry of a young bird
Example: We heard the birds cheeping as their mother fed them.
Meaning: A low vibrating sound typical of a contented cat
Example: While purring is not always a sure-fire sign of a cheerful cat, for the most part, it can be an indication of feline contentment or even bliss.
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There are many other animal-related onomatopoeic words such as neigh, oink, baa, moo, cluck, buzz, ribbit, quack, honk, hiss and gobble.
Onomatopoeia is a stylistic way to up your writing game and hook your readers. For instance, rather than saying, “I made eggs and bacon for breakfast” one could say, “The coffee machine buzzed as the coffee dripped down to the cup while I cracked open an egg, vigorously whisked it and poured it on the pan. The bacon frying in the pan hissed as I plopped the omelet onto my plate.” Which description creates a vivid mental image in your mind?
However, the right way to use onomatopoeia to make a bold point is by using it sparingly and carefully.
Now here is a task for you! Try and have fun with onomatopoeia by explaining, ‘How do you make your coffee or tea’?
Do send us your onomatopoeic stories!