An onomatopoeia or onomatopœia ( pronunciation (US) (help·info), from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία; ὄνομα for "name" and ποιέω for "I make", adjectival form: "onomatopoeic" or "onomatopoetic") is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. Onomatopoeia (as an uncountable noun) refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of onomatopoeias include animal noises, such as "oink" or "meow" or "roar". Onomatopoeias are not the same across all languages; they conform to some extent to the broader linguistic system they are part of; hence the sound of a clock may be tick tock in English, dī dā in Mandarin, or katchin katchin in Japanese.
Uses of onomatopoeia
In the case of a frog croaking, the spelling may vary because different frog species around the world make different sounds: Ancient Greek brekekekex koax koax (only in Aristophanes' comic play The Frogs) for probably marsh frogs; English ribbit for species of frog found in North America; English verb "croak" for the common frog. Related to this is the use of tibbir for the toad.
Some other very common English-language examples include hiccup, zoom, bang, beep, and splash. Machines and their sounds are also often described with onomatopoeia, as in honk or beep-beep for the horn of an automobile, and vroom or brum for the engine. When someone speaks of a mishap involving an audible arcing of electricity, the word "zap" is often used (and has been subsequently expanded and used to non-auditory effects generally connoting the same sort of localized but thorough interference or destruction similar to produced in short-circuit sparking).
Agglutinative languages or synthetic languages flexibly integrate onomatopoeic words into their structure. This may evolve into a new word, up to the point that it is no longer recognized as onomatopoeia. One example is English "bleat" for the sheep noise: in medieval times it was pronounced approximately as "blairt" (but without an R-component), or "blet" with the vowel drawled, which is much more accurate as onomatopoeia than the modern pronunciation.
An example of the opposite case is "cuckoo", which, due to continuous familiarity with the bird noise down the centuries, has kept approximately the same pronunciation as in Anglo-Saxon times and its vowels have not changed to as in "furrow".
Sometimes things are named from the sounds they make. In English, for example, there is the universal fastener which is named for the onomatopoeic of the sound it makes: the zip (in the UK) or zipper (in the U.S.). Many birds are named after their calls, such as the Bobwhite quail, the Weero, the Morepork, the killdeer, chickadee, the cuckoo, the chiffchaff, the whooping crane and the whip-poor-will. In Tamil and Malayalam, the word for crow is kaakaa. This practice is especially common in certain languages such as Māori and, therefore, in names of animals borrowed from these languages.
Comics and advertising
- It was Crane who pioneered the use of onomatopoeic sound effects in comics, adding "bam," "pow" and "wham" to what had previously been an almost entirely visual vocabulary. Crane had fun with this, tossing in an occasional "ker-splash" or "lickety-wop" along with what would become the more standard effects. Words as well as images became vehicles for carrying along his increasingly fast-paced storylines.
Advertising uses onomatopoeia as a mnemonic, so consumers will remember their products, as in Alka-Seltzer's "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh, what a relief it is!" jingle, recorded in two different versions (big band and rock) by Sammy Davis, Jr.
Rice Krispies (US and UK) and Rice Bubbles (AU) make a "snap, crackle, pop" when one pours on milk. During the 1930s, the illustrator Vernon Grant developed Snap, Crackle and Pop as gnome-like mascots for the Kellogg Company.
Sounds surface in road safety advertisements: "clunk click, every trip" (click the seatbelt on after clunking the car door closed; UK campaign) or "click, clack, front and back" (click, clack of connecting the seatbelts; AU campaign) or "click it or ticket" (click of the connecting seatbelt; US DOT campaign).
In many of the world's languages, onomatopoeia-like words are used to describe phenomena apart from the purely auditive. Japanese often utilizes such words to describe feelings or figurative expressions about objects or concepts. For instance, Japanese barabara is used to reflect an object's state of disarray or separation, and shiiin is the onomatopoetic form of absolute silence (used at the time an English speaker might expect to hear the sound of crickets chirping or a pin dropping in a silent room, or someone coughing). It is used in English as well with terms like bling, which describes the glinting of light on things like gold, chrome or precious stones. In Japanese, kirakira is used for glittery things.
Examples in media
- Whaam! (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein is an early example of pop art, featuring a reproduction of comic book art that depicts a fighter aircraft striking another with rockets with dazzling red and yellow explosions.
- Marvel Comics has trademarked two words of their own invention: thwip!, the sound of Spider-Man's web shooter, and snikt! the switchblade-sound of Wolverine's claws locking into place (which was replaced with the lesser-known schlikt during the period he was left without the adamantium covering on his bones). Marvel also uses the sound effect "bamf" to signify Nightcrawler's teleportation.
- In Doctor Who comic strips, the sound of the Tardis is represented as vworp! vworp!
- In the Garfield comic strip and television series, there is a running gag about a "splut," which is usually the sound of a pie hitting someone in the face.
- For example, Garfield once kicked Odie, but instead of 'kick' it said 'blagoonga', with Garfield remarking to Jon that Odie needs to be tuned
- The late MAD Magazine cartoonist Don Martin often used such words in his artwork, to comic effect.
- In the 1960s TV series Batman, comic book style onomatopoeias such as wham!, pow!, "biff!", crunch and "zounds" appear onscreen during fight scenes. This is often the subject of parody, for example in the Simpsons episode "Radioactive Man" where the onomatopoeic words are replaced with snuh!, newt! and mint! which are references to other Simpsons episodes. There are also internet memes with a picture of Batman and the caption "I can punch you so hard words will appear in thin air." or a variation thereof.
- Ubisoft's XIII employed the use of comic book onomatopoeias such as bam!, boom and noooo! during gameplay for gunshots, explosions and kills, respectively. The comic-book style is apparent throughout the game and is a core theme, and the game is an adaptation of a comic book of the same name.
- In the movie Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo, Tigger lists onomatopoeia as a possible word that Rabbit doesn't allow to be said in his house. Tigger also announces that onomatopoeia is in fact a real word. The irony in this being that "Pooh" got his name from the sound he made when trying to blow a bee off of his nose.
- The onomatopoeia that is said to be heard at a typical Disco Biscuits (a popular jamband) show is untz. This description seems to have originated from an interview with Bob Dylan, who said "I kept hearing this, untz..untz..untz..untz..(sound in the background of all the music)"
- In book 4 of Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels, the name of the Houyhnhnms is an onomatopoeia for the whinny of a horse.
- The chorus of American popular song writer John Prine's song "Onomatopoeia" cleverly incorporates onomatopoeic words (though as discussed, 'ouch!' is not the sound of pain): "Bang! went the pistol. | Crash! went the window. | Ouch! went the son of a gun. | Onomatopoeia | I don't wanna see ya | Speaking in a foreign tongue."
- Todd Rundgren wrote a humorous song "Onomatopoeia" which uses many examples in this "Love Song". Examples in the song start out reasonable and start to get more ludicrous as the song goes on.
- The comic strip For Better or For Worse is notorious for using non-onomatopoeic verbs as onomatopoeias, such as "Scrape," to indicate a person shaving, or "Tie," to illustrate someone tying a string around a package.
- A well-known rhetorical question is "Why doesn't onomatopoeia sound like what it is?". Iain M. Banks references this in his novel Against a Dark Background, when a character claims that the word onomatopoeia is spelled "just the way it sounds!".
- Brian Preston, a Quizzo night host in Philadelphia used words like crash, boom, and fart to describe onomatopoeia. Fart is a non-onomatopoeia (although its Proto-Indo-European language ancestor perd- (compare Greek περδομαι and Avestic prd) is more realistic).
- "Kerplunk" was used in the video game Final Fantasy VIII as the name of one of the Guardian Force Cactuar's attacks. For the Guardian Force Tonberry, the humorously out of place onomatopoeia of doink! is written on-screen during its powerful knife stab attack.
- In the video game Brave Story: New Traveler, an onomatopoeia appears wherever an attack hits its target.
- The January 8, 2008 comic of Ozy and Millie featured a panel in which Millie repeats the word "Splorsh" and Ozy quips "I've noticed you find Onomatopoeia extremely distracting."
- The marble game KerPlunk is an onomatopoeia for the sound of the marbles dropping when one too many sticks has been removed.
- The Nickelodeon cartoon Kablam is implied to be onomotapoeic to a crash.
- In a 2002 episode of The West Wing, Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn) and Ian McShane (portraying a Russian negotiator) have a conversation about how the word 'frumpy' "onomatopoetically sounds right".
- In an episode of Duckman, a fight between Duckman and King Chicken crashes through a college classroom where Ajax was earlier giving a presentation on onomatopoeia. They tumble through a series of signs from the presentation on their way through, each labeled with the appropriate onomatopoeia for the sound effect that plays during the fight.
- In one issue of Punisher, "funt" was used as the sound of a fired silenced pistol.
- Crystal, David (1997) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, Second Edition ISBN 0-521-55967-7
- Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 680. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.
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