Onomatopoeia, by strict definition, is a word which imitates the natural sounds of a thing and creates a sound effect that mimics the thing (sound) being described, thereby making the description more expressive and interesting.
Simply put, in layman’s language, it is the use of words — such as ‘gring/ring’ (for bell or phone sounds), ‘thud’ (for a blow hitting something, or footfall of a running person) or ‘buzz’ (for doorbell or bee sounds), that imitate the sounds normally associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
According to Dictionary.com onomatopoeia is “the use of imitative and naturally suggestive words for rhetorical, dramatic, or poetic effect” while Merriam-Webster calls it “the creation of words that imitate natural sounds” and “the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss).”
Before we proceed, it is imperative to know a little about the etymology of the word ‘onomatopoeia’. It may interest you to know that the word comes from the combination of two Greek words — one meaning ‘name’ and the other meaning ‘I make.’
What this means is that onomatopoeia literally means “the name (or sound) I make.” Put in another way, it simply means that the onomatopoeic word is just trying to give the sound a name so ‘hiss’ sounds like what is describes while ‘achoo’ sounds just like the sneeze it describes.
Also, most of the words so formed originally mean nothing more than the sound it makes. But, these days, many onomatopoeic words have taken on more meaning than the sound they represent.
‘Ring’ is the sound of a phone or bell, but it is also the action of calling someone. So you hear people saying “give me a ‘ring’ when you are done.” Also, a word like ‘shuffle’ is the sound made by dragging something or a person with leg-injury dragging his/her foot around, but it is also the word for mixing a deck of cards or mixing music as done by Disk Jockeys. ‘Slap,’ now not only means the sound made by skin hitting skin. It is also the action of hitting someone with an open hand.
Now, let’s look as some examples to let us understand the concept.
EXAMPLES OF ONOMATOPOEIA
The ‘buzzing’ bee flew away.
The sack fell into the river with a ‘splash’.
The books fell on the table with a loud ‘thump’.
He looked at the ‘roaring’ sky.
The ‘rustling’ leaves kept me awake.
By default, the sounds made by animals are also considered as examples of onomatopoeia. You will recognize the following sounds easily:
Onomatopoeia as used in poems:
Knock knock…the door creaked
Pitty-patter…. feets on the floor
Tick tock… it’s 12 midnight
(KIS, “Its 12 Midnight”, 2014)
“The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees…”
(‘Come Down, O Maid’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
“I’m getting married in the morning!
Ding dong! the bells are gonna chime.”
(Lerner and Loewe, “Get Me to the Church on Time.” My Fair Lady, 1956)
“Bang! went the pistol,
Crash! went the window
Ouch! went the son of a gun.
I don’t want to see ya
Speaking in a foreign tongue.”
(John Prine, “Onomatopoeia.” Sweet Revenge, 1973)
CATEGORIES OF ONOMATOPEIA: Though there is no standard breakdown of onomatopoeic sounds into types, there are 5 easily identifiable categories.
- Words related to water: In this group are words like; Drip, splash, spray, sprinkle, squirt, drizzle…
- Words related to the voice: These include words like giggle, growl, grunt, gurgle, mumble, murmur, bawl, belch, chatter, blurt…
- Words related to collisions: Here you have words; bam, bang, clang, clank, clap, clatter, click, clink, ding, jingle, screech, slap, thud, thump…
- Words related to air: Air only makes a sound by blowing through something. Words used to describe these words describe sounds of air blowing through things; flutter, fwoosh, gasp, swish, swoosh, whiff, whoosh, whizz, whip, whisper…
- Animal sounds: Sounds made by the various animals are also considered onomatopoeia and examples are; bark, bray, buzz, cheep, chirp, cluck, cock-a-doodle-doo, cuckoo, hiss, meow, moo, neigh, oink, purr, quack, tweet…
Note that there are however other Onomatopoeia words used in literature, and poetry.
- Write a poem of 5 lines
- Include at least 4 Onomatopoeia in the poem
- List out the Onomatopoeia in your poem and identify the sound they stand for.
SOURCES: This article was written with material obtained from the listed websites.
ABOUT EDUCATION — Onomatopoeia
LITERARY DEVICES — Onomatopoeia
DICTIONARY.COM — Onomatopoeia
MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM — Onomatopoeia
YOUR DICTIONARY — 5 Examples of Onomatopoeia
I am a member of the WRR editorial team.