A to Z Day 15: Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a word which imitates a sound, or the the sound of the thing it represents. Here are a few easy examples: buzz, hiss, sizzle, snap, crackle, Opop, clink, tinkle. Common groups of onomatopoeic words include water sounds, animal sounds, wind sounds, and descriptors for human speech. Onomatopoeia can also be created with consonance and alliteration. For example, “the serpent slithered slowly” uses repeated s-sounds to suggest a hiss, even though none of the individual words are onomatopoeic on their own.

Onomatopoeic words tend to be either good descriptors, active verbs, or both. For example, “The water gurgled down the drain” is more descriptive than “the water ran down the drain.” In addition, they can often be used as more than one part of speech. “Whisper” can be a noun or a verb; “whispering” can be a verb or an adjective.

They also engage a reader’s sense of hearing, which useful if you’re trying to help people experience a scene as they read it.

Onomatopoeia is not just an English phenomenon. It occurs in lots of other languages, as well. Many cultures, for example, have onomatopoeic words for repetitive sounds like ticking clocks and horses’ hooves. But the sounds of the words can be entirely different from language to language, because every culture translates sound into sense in its own way. If you speak a non-English language, I’d be really interested in any non-English onomatopoeic words you’d like to share on the thread today.

Onomatopoeia is a technique not to be overlooked, especially if you’re trying to create euphonic language that stimulates the senses of your audience. It’s like sound effects for your writing.

A to Z Badge by Jeremy of Being Retro

 

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15 thoughts on “A to Z Day 15: Onomatopoeia

    • I’ve never studied it, but I’ve seen lots of examples from Japanese over the years. If I could afford to learn two more languages, I’d learn Spanish because so many people in my region speak it, and Japanese, because I find its structure interesting.

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  1. Now I’m stuck thinking about my native language, French. It is interesting to see that some animal sounds sound close to the animal (un serpent siffle / a snake slithers, un hibou hulule / an owl howls and I’m not sure about the English word, sorry!) while others don’t (un chat ronronne / A cat purrs, note that purr which is both a verb and a noun in English has two different words in French: ronronnement (ronron in slang) is the noun and ronronner is the verb, in a similar fashion or how a dog’s barking is also split in two different words for name (aboiement) and verb (aboyer).

    A couple words I love for conveying sounds in French are “clapoter” (drip/ripple for water), “crépiter” (wood crackling in the fire).

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    • Thanks for sharing this. I took a couple of French courses 20 years ago, but didn’t know enough people who were conversant to actually learn the language once the courses were done.

      I find these sorts of comparisons fascinating.

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    • Me too! I almost mentioned it’s just a fun word to say, but I think I already used that line a few days back.

      I consider it a basic technique, but I think it’s very powerful for creative/dramatic writing.

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    • It’s one of my faves, I am not sure I would put it at the top of the list, but I we had so much fun with it in high school!

      Thanks for all those likes 🙂 I was scheduling posts as you were clicking them and seeing all the notifications. It was very happy-making.

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